The latest Steyn article that has the entire conservative world swooning

(Note: Maybe after reading the entire Steyn article I’ll agree with everyone that it’s great. If so, my dismissive view of it, after having read just a few paragraphs of it, will serve as a lesson in pride and prejudice. At VFR, even mistakes are profitable.)

Jim C. wrote:

This article by Mark Steyn is brilliant—re decline of liberty

LA replied:

Oh no, another Steyn worshipper. Another conservative worshipping at the foot of defeatism.

Jim C. replied:

Read the article, young Larry.

LA replies:

You’re my elder and teacher now?

But don’t worry, I’ll read it. Do you think Steyn’s most prolific critic won’t read this article of his that everyone is oohhing and aahhing over?

LA continues:

Speaking of your reference to me as “young Larry,” in a diner in my neighborhood, there is a friendly waiter who when he sees me greets me by saying, “Young man!” More recently, I took to saying to him first, “Young man!” And so now he says back to me, “You’re the original young man!”

- end of initial entry -

A reader writes:

I think I was one of the people who sent you the Steyn article. If not, I certainly thought of you.

It was hardly great as I remember, more a rehash of lots of what has been said before.

Steyn is not an original thinker but he knows how to connect to a reader and that’s just what he has done here. It is an accessible but unremarkable article. I’m amazed (and I don’t have your Steyn revulsion) that some people are making such a big deal about it.

I’d have to reread it to analyse it but I’m positive I noted that it was unremarkable and unoriginal.

James P. writes:

The Steyn article is typical of his work—it is all diagnosis and no cure, with the result that the reader emerges thoroughly demoralized. It’s an apocalypse! We’re heading off a cliff! And nothing can be done! That being the case, I guess we might as well become Gamers and embrace nihilism and hedonism with open arms.

LA replies:

Do you have any explanation of why conservatives go so over the top in their love of Steyn? “Thank God for Mark Steyn!” and that type of thing, over and over.

It’s a strange psychological/social phenomenon, which cries out for explanation.

Here’s a possible theory: conservative readers are so weary of conservative triumphalism and conservative obtuseness about the ongoing advance of liberalism (which is dismissed as “silly PC” etc, not seen for the coherent, juggernaut-like threat that it is), that when they see someone treating the liberal threat as victorious and unstoppable, they are thrilled to be getting this much truth.

James P. replies:

Steyn is celebrated because he provides some Small Truths about the horrors of liberalism. We note that he is careful never to venture into the realm of Big Truths, and he has been so consistent in this that we must conclude it is deliberate. If he stated any Big Truths, then conservatives would be uncomfortable because he would have told them that it is both possible and necessary to fight liberalism; passive acquiescence is far less demanding in every respect. Liberals, of course, cannot tolerate the statement of Big Truths, and would hound him from public life if he did so.

“Liberals are evil and you are right to hate them, but you can’t possibly fight them so don’t even bother,” is the perfect formula to spoon feed to the average conservative. The reader’s beliefs are affirmed, but he is not actually required to take action on them.

LA replies:

That’s very good analysis of the average conservative’s mindset and how Steyn exploits it. Also, your apt use of the phrase “Big Truth,” which was coined by Philip M. at VFR last week, is testament to the fact that Philip has added a permanent term to the conservative vocabulary.

N. writes:

I read Steyn’s latest article because of the link at VFR. It is, as another reader noted, a rehash of things written previously. I think that he keeps getting these articles published for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a point of view that is still not all that common in various magazines and other media outlets, so there is still a novelty factor so far as many editors are concerned. It’s frustrating to think that all these very basic facts that many of us have known for years are still somehow new or shocking to people, but it must be so.

Second, Steyn essentially has a schtick that he’s good at; he no doubt could write one of these pieces in his sleep, perhaps he already has. It may be he’s become the “go to” guy for “decline-of-the-West-oh-gosh” articles for editors who need some column inches to fill. If he actually started writing articles that contained a suggestion or two on what to do, that might not be so popular.

Years ago I knew some people who considered themselves “survivalists,” they were fond of talking about all manner of disasters and what they would do in this or that case. Several of them were fat, and out of shape, with a diet rich in junk. It took me some time, as a young man, to realize that they weren’t really survivalists at all; none of them knew how to build a fire and get it lit without use of matches (or gasoline … ) for example. Few of them would have been able to run 200 yards. Most of them owned firearms, but rarely went shooting. I gradually realized that for them, chattering about some doomsday or other was merely a form of entertainment; it was similar to going to a horror movie in some ways. They enjoyed contemplating “the masses” suffering some terrible fate, while fantasizing themselves as invincible. It was, in a sense, “disaster porn.” I quit spending time with those people and have never regretted that decision.

That’s what I think at least some of the market for Steyn’s writings is; people who get some sort of pleasure out of contemplating doom in an abstract way. Note that Steyn’s doom is always out there a few years, in some sort of fuzzy future. He never says “Well, some readers of this article may be dead in 24 months or less if they live too close to a concentration of certain people, and so here is what those readers should do,” because that would take away the fuzzy-fear and make it much more concrete.

It would also put the reader in the uncomfortable position of not only knowing something bad is out there, but that he himself can do something about it. So if the reader doesn’t do anything, then he’s contributing to that bad future. Making readers uncomfortable with facts is no way to sell newspapers, is it?

LA replies:

You’ve provided an interesting way to characterize Steyn’s writings and the reason for their huge appeal among mainstream conservative readers: Apocalypse porn. End-of-Western-civilization porn.

And part of what makes it work is that it’s a porn that never goes outside acceptable mainstream conservative terms and concepts. For example, though his most celebrated article ever was entitled, “It’s the demography, stupid,” he never talks about—indeed he never remotely refers to—immigration or race or the dynamics of racial differences and racial conflict.

Also, that article was a perfect example of his technique as you have described it. If the main threat to Europe was Muslim birthrates, as he asserted, well, nothing can be done by us to reduce Muslim birthrates, and it would be impossible for white birthrates to equal Muslim birthrates, though Steyn absurdly suggested that the solution was for whites to have more children. So that’s a thrilling apocalypse without a solution. But if Steyn had said that the reason Muslims were in Europe in the first place was immigration, and therefore that the solution to the Muslim “demography problem, stupid” was to stop and reverse this Muslim immigration, that would be calling on his readers to do something, indeed, to do something extremely difficult, and his popularity, at least among his mainstream conservative fan base, who seek the perverse pleasures of Apocalypse porn, not civilizational survival, would have instantly ended.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 21, 2011 10:12 AM | Send

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