The inversion that is our norm

Jonah O. writes:

As has begun to happen rather often, I was at a social occasion the other night and thought of VFR. The occasion? Some local gallery event, held for an untalented artist who was being dubiously promoted as “shocking.” The crowd? Libertines of all stripes. Now, in a society where the values of such people were not also the values of the media, business and political leaders, this would have been a small thing—a little exception, a disreputable little gathering at a disreputable little haunt. In a traditional society, a bystander may truly have had the ability to be shocked by the casual androgyny, the painted blasphemies and the sexual goings-on, which ironically may have given them some purpose (however petty). In the new order, though, it was a totally pointless affair—which got me thinking.

Bohemianism has long been shorthand for the general set of personal freedoms now demanded by liberal societies. Open marriage, homosexuality, heresy—these things aren’t new. In a traditional society, such behaviour was part of the order, albeit a small and oppositional part. From this generally shunned and despised corner came a reliable trickle of new ideas which somewhat legitimized its presence. It was nothing to aspire to, and fell outside of the bounds of polite discussion, but it was there for the determined seeker or for the outcast. It was a last-minute catch by the greater society, or something of a pressure-valve. It was marginal.

We are now in the throes of a radical experiment which would have shocked even the rudest of 1880s Paris libertines: The conscious remaking of the whole society in the image of this formerly quite marginal part. The gaunt, witty homosexual of the corner cafe has become a shrieking activist leading a convoy down Main Street. The childless salon couple, unmarried and with her ten years his senior, has become the model family. The fop, the sot, the bounder—all these 19th century terms are archaic precisely because they are finally so ordinary.

Perhaps those people truly most comfortable at the margins, those people who would actually have been at home in the bohemian quarters of belle epoque France, shunned and speaking heresies … perhaps these will now become traditionalists. I mean, what’s more rebellious than that?

LA replies:

May I just say—YES.

What you’re talking about is the total inversion of values, by which what was once marginal, despised, and prohibited has become the norm, and what was once the norm has become marginal, despised, and prohibited. But the inversion doesn’t stop there. The ultimate inversion is that the fact of the inversion itself is covered up and denied, so that everyone believes that we are still living in a “normal,” middle class society. Thus columnists and pastors will occasionally express disapproval at some particularly disgusting social phenomenon, not noticing that the disgusting has become the norm and is everywhere.

Just consider the fact that Madonna is treated as completely normal—her every activity, her every appearance, is covered in the papers, without a single indication that there is anything objectionable about her.

At the same time, I’m not saying that the abnormal is all we are—not at all. The normal continues, even in the midst of all the abnormality. And that is the strangest part of it. I discuss this topic in my 2003 booklet essay, Erasing America. We’ll be getting an HTML version of it online soon.

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Jane S. writes:

What you have to keep in mind with radicals is that they are perpetual adolescents and they think like adolescents. They want it both ways. They like the security and validation of being accepted by the establishment, but they enjoy being rebellious and shocking at the same time.

It doesn’t matter how much they clamor about being “included” or part of the mainstream. The last thing they want is to wake up one morning transformed into a bunch of middle-class squares, like the rest of us. Embarrassing people is their metier. For us to approve of their lifestyle would be an embarrassment to them.

Every once in a while, I’ll ask a teenager what kind of music they listen to, to which they will answer rather quickly, “Nothing you would like.” Radicals don’t want us to like what they like—that would take away all the fun.

LA replies:

Yes, all true. But none of this explains the ordinary citizen of modern liberal society who is not rebelling, does not seek to be shocking, but also does not notice or react against the normalized, mainstream radicalism all around him.

The typical radical is easy to understood. The ordinary citizen of our “radicalized mainstream” society—the society that normalizes Madonna—is not so easy to understand.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 25, 2010 07:35 PM | Send

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