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Mark Steyn

Steyn on Culture

Going with the Flow

I started the day on Bill Bennett's radio show, which is always fun. Jonah Goldberg was on before me, and advanced the proposition, after the Supreme Court's almighty constitutional bender last week, that it wasn't so bad; conservatives who just pottered around in their own world and tended to their families would still be able to lead lives largely unbattered by the forces of "progress". A few minutes later, one of Bill's listeners, Claudine, came on and said that's what Germans reckoned in the 1930s: just keep your head down and the storm will pass. How'd that work out?

Claudine had the better of the argument, I think. Most of us are not cut out to swim against the tide. For one thing, it's exhausting. Tides ebb and flow, and it's easier just to go with it. In Germany, maybe if your very best pal was Jewish, you'd say something. But, if it's just the greengrocer or the elderly couple in the second-floor flat that you nod to on the stairs, do you really want to make a fuss and have arguments with your family and friends all the time? Isn't it easier just to say nothing?

In the end, most people want to be like most people. That's why they tell you the weekend movie grosses on the Monday morning news and put the Top Ten bestsellers at the front of Barnes & Noble - so that you can like what everybody else likes.

So I find the idea that tens of millions of American "traditionalist" conservatives are going to lead their own lives immune to the broader culture somewhat unlikely. Were the same-sex marriage decision, for example, merely a judicial ruling, Barack Obama would not have lit up the White House in LGBT rainbow colors. It is after all "the people's house" and half the people aren't entirely on board with this. But he chose to see this not as a mere judge's ruling but as an ideological victory - and to celebrate it as such. And he's thereby telling you that this shift is an official one, backed by the state, and state power, and it won't stop here.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in an actual bit of jurisprudential footnoting in the midst of his Hallmark greeting card on the raptures of gay love, said that organizations would still be free to teach and promote the old form of restrictive straights-only marriage. That's awfully sporting of him, but the Boy Scouts of America provide a clue as to how it's likely to work out. In the late Nineties, the BSA said no to gay scoutmasters. I was on the floor of the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in 2000 when they had some Eagle scouts as an honor guard - and in my section of the crowd everyone booed. And I remember thinking, "Man, these Dems are nuts. Booing boy scouts?"

But the booers won. Over the next decade, gay-friendly churches (Episcopalian, Congregational, and the other post-Christian ones) booted the scouts from church halls where they'd met for decades; Disney cut them off the list of approved charities to which their employees were permitted to donate their "Ears To You" fundraising proceeds; other corporate benefactors from the US soccer league to Lockheed Martin severed their ties ...and the number of new recruits to scouting dwindled remorselessly, and so did their finances. And in the end the boy scouts' leader caved - but too late. In the blink of an eye, the boy scouts had been, as my friend Ezra Levant likes to say, "de-normalized", and banished to the fringe, and nice soccer mommies don't want l'il Jimmy playing on the extremist fringe.

That's quite an accomplishment. After all, until Democrats figured it was safe to boo them, boy scouts were so mainstream that their very name is a synonym for someone kindly and pure and good-hearted. Take litigious lunatic and Nobel Prize appropriator Michael E Mann, who says here that the argument between the global warming crowd and us deniers has been "likened at times to a fight between a boy scout and a terrorist - and you know, we are the boy scouts". Which would make me the terrorist. When Mann calls himself a "boy scout", he doesn't mean he's a homophobic hater - although I'm certainly happy to advance that line in court if it helps. Mann is using "boy scouts" as a synonym for "the good guys".

That's how effective Big Gay is: They took "the good guys", and made 'em the bad guys, in nothing flat.

How many other groups are willing to be boy-scouted in the years ahead? How much faith is there in "faith-based institutions"? Four years ago I wrote:

Last year I chanced to see the email exchanges between college administrators over the choice of that season's Christmas card. I will spare their blushes, and identify the academy only as a Catholic college in New England. The thread began by asking the distribution list for "thoughts" on the proposed design. No baby, no manger, no star over Bethlehem, but a line drawing of a dove. Underneath the image was the following:

"What is Christmas?
It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.
It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal,
and that every path may lead to peace.
Agnes M Pharo."

The Agnes M Pharo? A writer of such eminence that even the otherwise open-to-all-comers Wikipedia has no entry for her. Still, as a purveyor of vacuous pap to America's credentialed class for all-purpose cultural cringe, she's hard to beat. One unfortunate soul on the distribution list wandered deplorably off message and enquired whether the text "is problematic because the answer to the question 'What is Christmas?' from a Catholic perspective is that it is the celebration of the birth of Christ." Her colleague patiently responded that, not to worry, all this religious-type meaning was covered by the word "blessings." No need to use any insufficiently inclusive language about births of Saviors and whatnot; we all get the cut of Agnes' jib from the artfully amorphous "blessings."

When an explicitly Catholic institution thinks that the meaning of Christmas is "tenderness for the past, vapid generalities for the present, evasive abstractions for the future," it's pretty much over.

These "faith-based institutions" are going to stand against the new state ideology?

Who else? When you read these accounts of apparently sane members of Wisconsin's "public service" and "law enforcement" launching thug assaults with battering rams against the suburban homes of their ideological opponents, would you really want to bet that the full force of the state won't one day SWAT a "homophobic" florist to death? In a deranged culture where the Stalinist blood lust of political correctness is so insatiable that a hit TV show has to be yanked from the airwaves because of the roof of a motor vehicle driven by the characters, how many networks will be willing to countenance anyone espousing "traditional" theology or morality?

How about the forty-seven officially declared Republican presidential candidates? Marco Rubio, deferring to America's black-robed regents, says that it's now "the law of the land". So pretty pretty please, can we move on? Why prolong the agony of this latest concession when there are so many exciting concessions still to come we should be talking about?

Most people want to be like most people. Even Anthony Kennedy's just going with the flow, wouldn't you say? It doesn't have to start out as a numerical majority. It can be quite a small group of people, as long as they're the people who make the running, who frame the issues, who book the panel guests on NPR, and write all those nice domesticated characters on "Modern Family", and are marching marching marching 24/7 on that long march through the institutions. Which turned out to be not that long after all. If it's too much to expect a Supreme Court justice to stand against "Modern Family", why should anybody else?

Which folks are happy to be contrarian and swim against the tide? Gays, obviously, and the hard left, which is one reason things tend to go their way. But also Muslims. Look at that woman in the ice-cream van at the top of the page. That's a British "ice-cream lady" of the 21st century. At a certain level, it's ridiculous serving 99s and raspberry ripples in a burqa. But at another, far more important level, it's not in the least bit ridiculous: it's telling you that these guys mean it - and they've figured out that you don't.

That ice-cream lady knows she's a minority now, and part of a larger minority tomorrow, and then one day a majority. As I wrote in National Review over six years ago:

Let's say you work in an office in those cities: One day they install a Muslim prayer room, and a few folks head off at the designated time, while the rest of you get on with what passes for work in the EU. A couple of years go by, and it's now a few more folks scooting off to the prayer room. Then it's a majority. And the ones who don't are beginning to feel a bit awkward about being left behind.

What do you do? The future showed up a lot sooner than you thought... If you're the average post-Christian Eurosecularist, what's the big deal? Who wants to be the last guy sitting in the office sharpening his pencil during morning prayers?

Funny how quickly it all happened. There was the woman on reception, but she retired. And the guy in personnel who used to say, sotto voce, that Geert Wilders had a point. But he emigrated the year after Wilders did.

Four years later, just to underline the point, Arnoud van Doorn, the producer of Wilders's anti-Islamic film Fitna, converted to Islam.

Swimming against the tide is grueling - but tides ebb and flow. Kate McMillan doesn't think the civilizational clash between the dar al Islam and the dar al Gay is much of a showdown:

At the current rate of Muslim immigration to the west, gay marriage is just a temporary condition.

She's right on that. I don't want to wind up with a choice between the twin totalitarianisms of soulless state-regulated hyper-sexualized semi-tyranny and sharia - because, if that's what it comes down to, I know who'll win. But conservatives have spent the supposed "end of history" winning a zillion elections, and losing everything that matters. To most of the so-called millennials, conservatism is entirely invisible except as a Jon Stewart punchline - and that invisibility was largely our choice. Instead of launching another radio show or news aggregator or think-tank, never mind obsessing over whether Jeb or Jindal or Christie will play better in Iowa, we need to make like the Islamic mullahs and the sex mullahs and start competing for the space where people actually live.

from Steyn on Culture, July 2, 2015

 

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