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The title for this post is stolen from a novel of the same name by E.R. Eddison wherein the Lords of Goblinland, Impland, Witchland and Pixyland war with one another in unceasing plots and, like many Norse and Icelandic inspired mythologies, tend to rinse, lather and then repeat endlessly. It’s a great read if you can stomach the sometimes awkward writing style and thick language.
In any case, my post isn’t actually about that novel. The image of the worm eating its own tail is an old one, and one that in most cases references the endless and cyclical nature of time. There is nothing new under the sun, so to speak. The image in my mind recently has been of a creature devouring itself and complaining and moaning about how much each bite hurts.
A friend of mine (my Best friend too), with whom I have run a business for the last five years, and for whom I now serve on that business’s board of directors called me a few weeks ago to say hello. That, and a few other things. Among the first words he said to me were:
“This is how good liberals get turned into conservatives, isn’t it?”
Before I tell you what else he said, and the situation around it, I’ll tell you about him. I’ll leave his name out of things, but he’s a liberal Democrat and had been a Clinton apologist for as long as I’ve known him. We met in our graduate program at Harvard in 2005. He’s Canadian by birth and grew up in Jewish Orthodoxy, though he no longer practices. He’s about as liberal as the day is long: longer probably.
He’s not particularly progressive, but he is firmly entrenched on the left. He’s got a photo in his office of him standing with his arm around Al Franken’s shoulders at a political event he hosted back in the early 2000s, both grinning from ear to ear. He loves Franken and seeing one of his idols brought low recently has been a blow for him. He’s mostly good-natured about his politics and he and I have spent many a good hour arguing over beers about the best ways to “save” the country as we see it.
Anyway, he called to tell me that some weeks ago, several of our employees decided to hold him hostage over a perceived political grievance. You see, we own a theatre company in Los Angeles and had chosen a play called ‘The Front Page” for a group of actors to perform this fall. The actors had all been cast and were taken out of the company’s acting school for this purpose. They knew us very well, and we knew them (or thought we did).
This play, which was just on Broadway last year, was written in the early part of the last century and is about a hard-bitten newsroom full of smoke, drink, and hard and fast-talking fellas (the kind of office that I like to think James Lileks works in). The main action centers around an execution (hanging) at the jail across the street because the guy killed a cop. Political bigwigs keep coming in and out of the office to use the event politically to try and get votes from various groups in the city — Chicago in this case.
Because of when this play was written and what it’s about, the language in this play is … somewhat salty. Now, I’m a proponent of not shirking a bit of harmless profanity in the name of art and, in this case, we were also talking some racial slurs too (i.e., the N-word).
So, my friend, the director of this piece, decided to make some changes to make it more palatable for the actors. (the Broadway production did not change anything). The references to the black community were changed to make it Irish … and then Jewish. The roles of power in the play were all cast with Black and Latino actors. Furthermore, they were largely cast with female actors! He thought he had his bases covered. I’d like to note for the record that all the actors knew this was the play they were going to do several months in advance, had been given scripts to read, and were cast six weeks before the incident I’ll now outline.
So, he had is bases covered until the first rehearsal where four actors in the company staged a protest. They called for a meeting where they confronted my friend with his crimes. They accused him of insensitivity and white privilege because he chose a show that made use of the N-word. They said that the play was irredeemably racist and changing words here or there couldn’t fix it. They said the play was anti-LQBTQ because at one point a character makes reference to a “Dandy with a cane.” They accused him of creating a space that was unsafe for actors of color, women, minorities, babies, animals, perishable food items, the blind, flight instructors, gay gymnasts, and … well, perhaps I overstate a bit, but the point is made.
At one point, as trying to reason with them, an actor shouted in his face, “Black lives Matter! Black lives Matter! Black lives matter!!!” This was a young, 22-year-old, middle-class white girl. He eventually extricated himself from the room, saying that if they couldn’t be respectful of their director and teacher then he would wait until they could to come back in the room. A young black actor came to him outside, conflicted, saying that he wasn’t sure what to do because even though he had a professional obligation, he “didn’t want to let his grandparents down.” This actor was playing the mayor of Chicago, and the reference that his grandparents may or may not have had a problem with it (who knows at this point?) was now about the Irish. So, my friend asked him point blank if his grandparents were Irish. All he got was a confused look and no response.
Later, my friend had to fire all the actors in the company who were causing trouble. I advised him to do so as well. One of the aggrieved penned a letter to our company at large accusing my friend of the most egregious of behaviors including being a white supremacist (was it the yarmulke that gave it away?), and said that she “wasn’t going to let another middle-aged, white man control her body and mind anymore.”
Needless to say, my friend is still reeling and dealing with the shattering of some of his worldview. On the phone, he couldn’t stop talking about how shocked he was. Within this group of people, there was no free speech. There was only the “right” way to think and believe and if he didn’t, he was an enemy. He remarked several times how fascist the whole thing felt to him. It was left for me to soothe his spirit and mind. I reminded him of what we’d talked about many times and how my conservative principles prepared me for interactions like those he’d dealt with. Mostly, we just commiserated about those “damned millennials and their stooopid tattoos and piercings!”
My main thought after all of this was that the left was eating itself, like the Worm Ouroboros. Perhaps it is doing so only in my friend’s life, but I think not. My other friends on the left (usually university professors) constantly remark about how they fear the new progressive, populist left (and right). And how they have to work so much harder today to teach their students how to think. I usually quote Thomas Sowell to them:
“The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.”
This gives me perspective when dealing with progressives in riot mode. Thinking doesn’t even enter the conversation. They are feeling and, to them, that is all there is.
Now my friend now calls me at least once a week to bemoan some new event like the one I’ve described. It strikes me that every call is not unlike the complaints the worm utters with each new bite it takes of its own tail. For now, I’ll try to nurse him through this tough time and who knows … there may actually be a good conservative made out of this process. On some strange level, I fear that possibility. He’s already a good (my best) friend and I might miss our discussions about how to fix all the world’s problems!
What do you, my fellow Ricochet members, think? Do you have a similar experience? Is the Left indeed eating itself? Is the right to some extent too? If so, how is it different from the Left’s version — if it’s different at all?