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The Burning Bed
“It is impossible to understand the politics of the Left without grasping that it is all about deniable intimidation.” — Richard Fernandez
“The violence of the jealous man is not always occasioned by his lover’s supposed interest in another man…On the contrary, it serves a prophylactic function and helps keep the woman utterly in thrall to him until the day she decides to leave him: for the whole focus of her life is the avoidance of his rage. Avoidance is impossible, however, since it is the very arbitrariness of his violence that keeps her in thrall to him. Thus, when I hear from a female patient that the man with whom she lives has beaten her severely for a trivial reason – for having served roast potatoes when he wanted boiled, for example, or for having failed to dust the top of the television – I know at once that the man is obsessively jealous: for the jealous man wants to occupy his lover’s every thought, and there is no more effective method of achieving this than his arbitrary terrorism.” — Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom
In 1980, the late actress Farrah Fawcett starred in a critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie called The Burning Bed. The movie recounted events in the life of Francine Hughes, a battered and abused wife who reached a breaking point after years of abusive treatment by her husband. She put a stop to her abuse by pouring gasoline over her drunken, abusive husband as he lay passed out in their bed, and then setting the bed on fire.
At her subsequent trial for the murder of her husband, the jury returned a not-guilty verdict on the basis of temporary insanity.
It becomes increasingly clear to me that the volatile dynamics of our cultural and political climate are similar in distressing ways to the dynamics found in abusive relationships. The progressive left has transformed itself into an abusive attention whore, not unlike the jealous man described in Theodore Dalrymple’s remarks above. The election of Donald Trump in 2016, which could be interpreted as an effort to push back against progressive abuse, had the effect of enraging progressives. The “deniable intimidation” coming from the left — to use Richard Fernandez’s characterization — had grown to the point where enough Republicans not only recognized it, but also recognized that the effete, gentlemanly legacy Republicans were not going to do anything about it.
In any bullying situation, the available reactions range from debasing subservience to confrontation. Early in an abusive relationship, I think the hope is very strong that the abuse is an aberration and not the norm. But at some point, it becomes apparent that the abuse is not an aberration but has become the essential thing that characterizes the relationship. At some point, a victim’s life depends upon her willingness to fight back against her abuser.
Trump represented an effort, by a critical mass of Republican victims of progressive abuse, to defend themselves from their abusers. And, in classic abuser fashion, the progressives ratcheted up their rage and it has continued to this day.
The election day riots in 2016, the weaponization of the FBI, the Russiagate conspiracy, the politicization of Covid, the George Floyd riots, Antifa, the unprosecuted vandalism of pregnancy centers, the lawless picketing and intimidation of judges, defund the police, the legal harassment of pro-life activists, etc., etc., ad nauseam. All of these events are indications of a progressive abuser who was enraged to come home after the election to find an unexpectedly assertive victim.
The question a lot of people are asking is, “At what point do things become desperate enough that I am willing to set the bed on fire?” The question doesn’t, of course, take exactly that form. But there is a growing conversation, no longer in the background, placing odds on the possibility of civil war and, at a minimum, raising the idea of “a national divorce.” The abuse victims are reaching the point of desperation.
One of the symptoms of abuse is the sense that victims develop that they must live with a complicated and dangerous set of behavioral guidelines, which they must remember and obey, in order to forestall the abuser’s anger. Abusers upset the mental equilibrium in their victims by rapidly changing the behavioral guidelines for avoiding abuse so that the victim is continually off-balance, always in fear of violating the ever-changing criteria for avoiding violence and rage. It turns the abuser into the focus of the victim’s entire thought life.
The language and thought police of the progressive left are the vanguard of the effort to create this kind of psychological imbalance in the victims of progressives. The rapid and continuous changes in speech requirements regarding marriage, sex, pronouns, gender, pandemics, etc., reflect something even more sinister than evolving moral standards on those respective issues. They create a minefield of social and, even, economic risk for anyone who doesn’t give careful and sustained attention to the changing requirements for speech which are necessary to avoid abuse. An unguarded comment, an honest observation, a genuine objection – all of these can result in having the world, and sometimes the law enforcement apparatus itself, come crashing down on the victim’s head.
Thus, the effect of continuously changing speech requirements is that progressives are, to a very great degree, able to control the thought lives of millions. The language we use not only reflects what we think but informs what we think. (The dual facets of our own pronouncements, both reflecting and informing our beliefs, shed light on why confession is so important within the Christian tradition.)
Progressive resistance to free speech is entirely because free speech represents the antithesis of thought control. Creating social pressure to conform speech as a means of avoiding abuse has the effect of altering the way victims think about the world. If a person is abused for saying what she really thinks, it becomes far easier for her to change what she thinks than to maintain an ongoing fictional existence — one in which, to protect herself from abuse, she must constantly utter words she does not believe.
The words we choose to utter inevitably alter the very way we perceive the world. It is not possible to be against free speech unless you also deny that other human beings are entitled to their own thoughts. If you are against free speech, you are necessarily against the very humanity of your neighbors. Denying the humanity of others — withholding from them the respect due to those who bear God’s image — is a common characteristic of abusers everywhere. It is in this context that any type of compelled speech (e.g., regarding pronouns) must be understood, not as an innocuous matter of social agreeableness, but as the imposition of something deeply and morally sinister.
“If a man claims to be a woman, which he can never be, and demands to be addressed as such, he is not merely asking for right etiquette. He is demanding that we enter his delusion, or his lie. It is not true. He is demanding that believers in God fall in worship of an idol. Some idols are hideous, like Moloch, and some are beautiful, like Dionysus. The Hebrew prophets did not care. They did not condemn the idols for their style. They condemned them for being false. We have names for people who accustom themselves to speaking what they know to be untrue. We call them scoundrels, or cowards.” — Anthony Esolen, Sex and the Unreal City
Even now, there is little uniformity of opinion, among the victims of progressivism, regarding how to respond to their abusers. My own sympathies lie with those who eschew euphemism and ambiguity and fight back by speaking the truth bluntly, and without disguise.
Everyone needs to re-watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The plot bears on the question of what, exactly, makes possible the thin veneer of civilization we all enjoy. At the end of the day, the writer concludes, it is the willingness actually to fight for it that makes it possible. But here’s the catch: notwithstanding being the very beneficiaries of someone willing to fight, we subsequently tell ourselves that fighting is uncivilized. Thus we plant the seed of our own demise.
Washington Generals NeverTrumpers seemed to oppose Trump mostly because he was gauche and uncouth and didn’t go to their schools. Trump was like a guy who showed up uninvited to the cool kids party, belched loudly during the opening toast, and later stuck his hand in the punch bowl.
But the NeverTrumpers were themselves revealed to be shallow and frivolous thinkers by their appalling gullibility. They rushed to believe every false accusation that dripped from the tongues of their own abusers, even while Trump was almost the only person in town who would conceivably fight back against the abuse. Trump had many warts, to be sure. But he was at least willing to fight. He seemed to instinctively understand that something rather more was needed to put a stop to the abuse than the NeverTrumpers’ longstanding strategy of harrumphing for the cameras about the “liberal order” just before retiring for the evening to hobnob at dinner parties with the very architects of their own abuse. I’m no Trump fan, but neither am I blind. I may have been born at night, as someone once said, but I wasn’t born last night.
The tension over the question of fighting back persists to this day, and it has gone far beyond the question of Trumpian politics. It has become a central question of the “culture wars.” Some have decided that they aren’t going to live within the speech constraints the abusers are trying to impose. They are no longer willing to minimize the truth or suppress their own thoughts merely to pacify a monster.
Other victims, though, are still at the point where they think we should accept the terms offered by our abuser and do what we can to “behave.” At least, that is how I interpret events surrounding Matt Walsh’s recent dust-up over his propensity for bluntness regarding the issue of transgenderism. Matt unpacks his reasons in the clip below. I think you’ll find that he, for one, has determined not to comply with the dictates of his abusers.
This is probably what it looks like when an abuse victim decides to set the bed on fire.
.Published in General
Great essay and some very scary quotes.
Wonderful post, and spot on. Thank you.
Although I don’t think that clip from Walsh is even close to “what it looks like when an abuse victim decides to set the bed on fire.” Setting the bed on fire is a whole ‘nother can of worms. I pray, earnestly, we don’t have to go there.
I’m rushed for time and will watch the Walsh video later, but the essay itself is spot on. Thank you.
I agree with most of what you wrote, Keith. There is one major part with which I disagree.
I don’t think that this is true. I think that it is possible to be against “free speech” if you realize that most people:
Do you really think that the “free marketplace of ideas” leads to truth? We’ve been taking this approach in the US for something like 50-100 years now, at the instigation of the political Left. What has been the result? Truth?
The result has been evil, hypocrisy, perversion, and outright insanity. It’s been getting worse, not better.
I like your example, quoting Anthony Esolen, of the Hebrew prophets. The interesting thing, though, is that the prophets didn’t engage in debate. Did Elijah debate the prophets of Baal? Or did he put them to the sword?
I think that virtually no one reaches an opinion by reasoned argument. They are taught, propagandized, and socially cajoled or threatened into believing whatever they believe.
The good guys, the traditional Christian conservatives, lost out to a Leftist ideology advocating freedom of speech. Unsurprisingly, upon achieving power, most of the Leftists force their own ideology on everyone. The one exception is the subset of the Left that calls itself Libertarian, a group so confused that they think that they are conservative, while virtually everything that they do leads to the victory of the rest of the Left.
The Libertarians, of course, think that they are virtuous. Some of them even make pseudo-Christian arguments, like demanding that everyone should be allowed to do or think whatever they want because they are made in the image of God. As if the Fall didn’t occur. As if we’re not inclined to evil and rebellion.
@arizonapatriot Jerry: Tell me please how the non-Christians in this world are to be brought to Jesus without the benefit of their free agency that includes freedom pf speech and freedom of thought. Are they to be brought forcibly willing or not?
We were born the same year.
The wife and I lived in the apartments across from her High School.
In Corpus Christi?
It’s morning here, and I got up and was thinking about comedians on 40- or 50-year-old clips of Johnny Carson taking about their professions and how professionally brilliant and personally good their colleagues were, and using funny voices and mugging facial expressions and honed talent of timing to make the audience laugh, and I think how they are, what I consider to be, ephemeral jesters, making a living by making others laugh, laughter that is soon forgotten. And then I thought, I don’t laugh much anymore.
And I thought how terrible it must be to spend decades honing your craft, to get people to laugh and enjoy an evening, and to be told that you can’t joke anymore, that you can’t say that, that you can go to jail (or have your bank account closed, or lose your job) because of that joke.
Venues such as college campuses dry up. Comedy lounges close doors. And the remaining comedians aren’t funny. They are scolds. I remember binge watching America’s or Britain’s Got Talent, and I remember the entertainers who would casually throw out the name “Trump!” as a joke. Not the punchline of a joke, but the entire joke. And it would get a smattering of applause, but it would fall flat. Even the judges weren’t impressed.
This too is forced thought control. Take away their fun. Because you can’t think that.
I went to high school in Corpus and lived there as an adult for 4 years. One of my children was born there.
So then, the answer is to take up arms against the leftists and the sooner the better? What do we do with the situation presented to us today? Where do we begin?
I think Walsh is very reasonable and effective. His style is strong and bold, not hysterical and phlegm-speckled.
This is why I’m against the “National Divorce” argument. Like Walsh, I want to crush these groomers. Destroy them and all that they stand for. And the only limits I have are effectiveness. Everything else is on the table. Any effective weapon to hand should be used.
Walsh and DeSantis have a fighting style that comes off as balanced, reasonable and thoughtful. They are effective fighters. Kevin McCarthy similarly does (so far). We need to be aggressive and call things for what they are. It’s most effective to be uncompromising, clear, even-toned, and cogent.
Carroll HS graduate, lived there until (?) 1972. Then Portland for a couple of years. Remember Officer Mudd? (I think that was his real name.)
That sounds awfully, I don’t know, maybe the word is… smug? Are you so sure you truly qualify as one of the “bright” ones, haven’t been emotionally manipulated, and haven’t actually wanted to be misled?
Oh I think that Elijah did indeed engage in debate first, at least in a way fairly common in ancient societies (trial by – spiritual – combat). And he won quite decisively, which then allowed him to exercise a more vigorous option. Need I point out the cultural differences between the ancient Middle East and now?
When you say “virtually no one” I hear that as saying it’s extremely rare that you can sit a person down and over time argue him out of his convictions. And I think that’s largely true, with people like C. S. Lewis being notable exceptions. But I think it’s more complicated than that. Powerful truths, expressed repeatedly in effective argument, can over time have enormous influence on communities and cultures small and large. See for example one Paul of Tarsus.
And note that reasoned argument is the first part of what I’d call the Leftist Two-Step. First, demanding free speech, they use reasoned arguments (flawed as they may be). Then, anywhere they gain any power, they move to shut down speech. They don’t do that last for no reason.
Traditional Christian conservatives are often pretty big on Reason.
Yes, indeed. Libertarians go wrong from the beginning, in the same way that the Left does (just a different direction). They don’t understand human nature.
I was a few years behind you (’78). I also graduated from Carroll. I don’t recall an Officer Mudd – must have been gone by my era.
I’m not expert in theology or Christianity so that’s why I ask you to explain such a point as this. Why would an all powerful God indulge Satan and allow evil behavior but then approve of an authoritarian approach like you describe?
In my experience with investors, raising money for companies, everyone makes an emotional decision first. Then they look for the facts that back that up. This includes professional investors. You have to understand what buttons to push. Sometimes the facts that you have to offer will not back up their emotional “gut” and they’ll pass. However, they will always pass if not first emotionally engaged.
The same is true for changing the actions of the reachable in the Culture Wars. (and it is a plural).
In the good old days, they understood that Reason, by itself, was not sufficient for effective engagement in politics. That’s why the old Liberal Arts schools taught both Logic and Rhetoric.
And also why they stopped under the auspices of the New Left Nomenklatura.
I’m reminded of what C.S. Lewis said about this mindset (although only indirectly in regard to this issue):
“Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”
I understand freedom to be a necessary pre-condition for the existence of love. I think it’s a design first principle put in place by God. We violate it at our great peril outside of those justifications in which people’s own free actions have caused them to forfeit their freedom. (e.g. killing another human being)
I’m quite confident that there are many people who are undeserving of freedom – probably even all of us. But it is simply not a matter of pragmatism or utility. Nor, frankly, is it even remotely a political issue. It is first and foremost a moral issue.
The context of my remarks were not “what path to finding truth has the highest probability of succeeding” but was entirely in regard to the moral basis for freedom of speech. I was not making a utilitarian argument.
Which other rights in the constitution, besides evidently the first amendment, are you also opposed to?
Agreed. I’m not ready to call for literally setting the bed on fire, but using it as a metaphor for openly declaring against the abusers and refusing to play by their rules or be confined to the Marquess of Queensberry rules.
I’m with you on the prayers.
In my experience problems come not from those who realize they’re not amongst the best and brightest. Problems come from those who believe they are smarter than they really are. Or perhaps they lack for wisdom and good judgement, conflating their perceived mental acuity with all three. One thing is for certain they are marginally capable of governing themselves, and unfit to govern others, at least outside their sphere of real expertise. And everyone is an expert on themself and their own needs and passions.
Sorry to have to truncate your comment due to space limitations.
About the smugness thing — I realize that I am subject to criticisms #2-4.
I realize that it’s not seemly to toot one’s own horn, but I find it even less seemly when people who aren’t very bright don’t seem to understand their limitations. Here are a few of my reasons for thinking that I’m unusually bright:
So I think that I’m brighter than usual. This is not “smugness.” It’s based on objective data and testing.
This does not mean that I’m always right.
I’m not opposed to the First Amendment. I think that you do not understand the original meaning of the First Amendment, which for about 150 years or so did not apply to the states anyway, and even where it applied, was not thought to prevent things like the teaching of traditional morality — or Christianity — in the schools.
@bobthompson, I ‘m going to try to answer your questions.
Do you seriously think that people cannot be brought to Jesus without the First Amendment?
Bob, that’s just ridiculous. People were brought to Jesus for almost 1,750 years before there was a First Amendment. People have been coming to Jesus all over the world, in our lifetime, without the benefit of the First Amendment.
There is a tendency among Americans to equate certain Constitutional rights or doctrines with sacred Scripture. They are not. Doing so actually risks idolatry.
Bob, I think that this represents another major error. You seem to equate evil with authority. You use the bugaboo term “authoritarian,” which seems to usually mean “enforcement of any law or rule that I don’t like,” and which, in its logical implication, equates anarchism with virtue.
The Bible teaches the opposite. The Bible teaches that we are to submit to legitimate authority, and pray that such authority is good. The only exceptions that I see to this occur when the authorities expressly command us to violate the commands of God, as when the Jewish leaders, early in the book of Acts, ordered the Apostles not to preach in the name of Jesus.
Libertarianism, and especially anarchism, is not Christianity. It is a major theological mistake to equate the two.
You are spot on, Keith, and Jerry is spot off.
Well @arizonapatriot, I haven’t yet made a first amendment argument so I’m not sure how you can know anything about my knowledge of the first amendment. I was reacting to your explication regarding the problems with it.
My argument for the centrality of freedom, if I had to tie it to a founding document, would be tied to the Declaration’s observation that liberty is something endowed by our creator and precedes and cannot be revoked by the machinations of governments. I was also arguing that human language was inextricably tied to human thought, and that compulsion in this area was not merely a matter of speech but was a form of thought control. None of my argument, you will observe, did I justify on the basis of the first amendment and on any modern departures from constitutional orthodoxy. My remarks regarding “free speech” were regarding the thing itself, not in regard to an interpretation of the constitution, debased or otherwise. I’m saying free speech is an essential component of liberty and is thereby part of our endowment which derives from God.
Actually I knew three different guys who were in the 99th-plus percentile. Two were close friends.
And they all showed poor functionality in their judgements and life choices, were dishonest, and yet oddly egoistical. In short, for all their raw intellect and education, they were all average.
. . .
Ditto . . .
[credentials also redacted for space and readability.]
Well, I’ll just point out that one can indeed still be smug about attributes one actually possesses. But “smug” is kind of an insult. I’m sorry I used the term in the first place.
My irritability stems from the fact that I think you tend to overvalue intelligence per se, to the detriment of people who do not merit deprecation. My work has brought me in contact with people all across the IQ spectrum; I can honestly say that I have more often seen reason to give respect to those on the lower end than to those on the higher.
Gullibility had nothing to do with it.