Sunday, January 27, 2019


What troubles me the most these days is the detachment of anger from reality. Comfortable people in prosperous and peaceful societies, living longer and healthier lives than ever before in history, put on yellow jackets and riot, demand to leave the European Union, campaign against vaccinations that have eliminated some of the worst diseases that have plagued humankind, rage against medicine and bio-technology, embrace convenient fictions to explain away inconvenient facts, and think that even the most commonplace things are phoney. And when you ask them why, the answer will be at best fallacious and at worst uncritically thoughtless.

Commentators write earnest pieces about how this is the fury of the dispossessed, the downtrodden, and the forgotten. Except it never is. The poor are too busy surviving. And on the rare occasions that they do take to the streets, they are driven by hunger rather than their desire for homeopathy.

As we have seen with Brexit, demands that are not concrete can never be appeased, anger cannot be dissipated by success. Rage becomes an addiction.

The glue that holds all these together - that binds the ludicrous, the prosaic, and the sinister into one incoherent discontent - is conspiracy theory. It's the idea that everything can be explained by malevolent others plotting against you, thereby thwarting what you and your overwhelming self-esteem think you deserve, while frustrating the glorious future that awaits if only they would allow it.

There are so many cruelties and injustices in the world. They have causes and remedies, though none are quick or easy, many are complex, understanding them means insight and nuance, and conflicts may often be resolved only through imperfect trade-offs between incompatible demands. Conspiracy theory denies this. It says everything is simple. There is one cause - them. Eliminate them and all will be well.

Today of all days, a day of remembrance, we mustn't forget that the ultimate and foundational conspiracy theory is anti-Semitism. If you scratch the surface of any of these movements, you will soon see Jew-hatred festering away. It's rarely as crude as in the 1930s. It is expressed though symbols - George Soros, the Rothschilds, Zionism, all woven into a subterranean racism. It's growing. It's suppurating in the left and right. It's evil.

Piously repeating mantras, like "never again," is not enough to defeat it. Instead, we need to rediscover reason - using analysis, self-awareness, and a sense of humility in the face of our own ignorance and prejudices - which we can never escape, but may come to know. In the meantime, we should remember where this leads.

(Thanks to Allan for the music)