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Despite occasional comments of mine that might suggest otherwise, I’ve always thought John Podhoretz a decent and good-hearted man, obviously bright and articulate (if prone to outrageous and sometimes comic hyperbole).
John made a point in the March 9 Commentary podcast that I thought was perspicacious and worth repeating. I give him full credit for the observation, and nothing I say here adds anything of substance to what he said in the podcast. I’m repeating it mostly for the benefit of those who won’t hear the podcast, and also because I want to reaffirm his observations with my own experience.
John referred to the Dr. Seuss incident as an instance of gaslighting. (Gaslighting, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, is the practice of deceiving someone into believing that they are being irrational and/or going insane; in its most classic form by pretending not to notice peculiar events, or pretending that there’s nothing strange about obviously strange situations. The term comes from a British play of the same name in which the villain engages in the practice.)
Anyway, John points out a few things about the Dr. Seuss kerfuffle: that the initial pulling of Dr. Seuss books occurred in a library in response to a patron’s complaints; that President Biden broke with recent tradition when he omitted reference to Dr. Seuss on “Read Across America Day,” which is held on Theodor Geisel’s birthday, March 2nd; that Dr. Seuss Enterprises immediately stopped publication of the six “offensive” volumes in response to “public pressure”; and that eBay immediately blocked the resale of used copies of the “offending” works.
All of that, John observes, was occurring on the progressive side of the cultural aisle.
The gaslighting comes in when conservatives begin pointing out how silly this is. This is where my own experience dovetails perfectly with what John is describing. The left’s response to conservative criticism of the sudden banning of a handful of children’s books has been to suggest that conservatives are crazy to obsess about this. They point out that this is simply an instance of a private company deciding not to publish a few books. Talk of censorship, of purging the public square of unapproved content, of rewriting history, etc., are all delusional.
It is obvious that conservatives must simply be sliding deeper into that insanity that, let’s face it, has been gripping them all along.
This is precisely what I experienced when I posted on this topic on Facebook a few days ago. It was pointed out to me that it’s a private company: surely I didn’t want to force them to publish something, did I? My references to eBay went ignored. There were chuckles about the triviality of this, about how silly it was to get worked up about a handful of children’s books that, anyway, simply weren’t making money for their publisher and as such, should of course be discontinued. Etc.
When a villain gaslights his victim in a work of fiction, he knows exactly what he’s doing. His machinations are part of a deliberate and diabolical plan to drive someone insane. In real life, most gaslighting is, I suspect, performed by manipulative and abusive people who use similar techniques to convince someone (read: abused wife) that he or she is broken, guilty, responsible for bad things, etc. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if most who engage in that practice did it instinctively. My limited experience with sociopathic sorts suggests that they have a gift for that particular kind of evil, and take to it naturally and even without thinking. But I don’t have a mind like that and I honestly don’t know.
The left is certainly gaslighting us about Dr. Seuss. They’re doing the same thing when they say “Cancel culture? What cancel culture?” But I’m not at all sure that most people who respond that way know they’re doing it. While I find it hard to understand how people can blithely accept the creeping suppression of dissent and dissenting ideas, and how they can fail to see what seems to me to be obvious, I have to believe that most of them honestly don’t think free expression is under assault.
Hmm. Or, just maybe, I’m going insane…Published in