Imagine being stuck on a plane which has found itself in trouble. The captain tells everyone there is engine failure and he’s going to attempt an emergency landing. You all adopt the brace position and get ready for the worst and… the guy sitting next to you is on a work call, busy arguing because he’s convinced his manager should cop the blame for losing the Japan deal. “This is important,” he tells you when he sees your puzzled expression.
I feel this way when I look at the few remaining culture warriors in our midst using the coronavirus as a hammer to hit what they hope might be a nail. Do you really care, anymore?
Last week, for example, with the British government about to order a lockdown, Vice was giving us their take: “The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on how transgender people’s care can be treated as ‘non-essential’.” Meanwhile only yesterday the activist/journalist Saira Rao was linking coronavirus to “white supremacy” in a deleted tweet.
A few weeks ago I would have found that sort of thing mildly annoying or silly, an accepted part of the ongoing and relentless culture war; now it just seems like something from another era.
That era arguably started in December 2001, when China’s admittance to the WTO allowed for the enrichment of both the western upper-middle-class and the People’s Republic of China. This ramping up of globalisation increased America’s wealth divide while also pushing the rich and poor in different directions, politically.
It was the upper-middle-class who became radicalised during the 2010s, not the poor, with progressivism partly becoming a replacement religion but also reflecting the fact that upper-class wealth relied on globalisation. The culture wars that flared up were essentially the product of wealthy people in a wealthy society with no real, existential problems.
The real dark side of this “great awokening” was that, while woke capital lectured us on how progressive they were, they did so on the back of near-slave labour in China; while young western liberals convinced themselves that their countries were on the verge of fascism — when they were in fact becoming more liberal than ever by almost every measure — they were tweeting on devices made in a state where Muslims are put in concentration camps.
Political activists are the white blood cells of a country, and when society faces no real threats, they turn in on society itself, ripping up its institutions in a desperate attempt to rid them of non-existent dangers. And so social problems had to be essentially imagined and invented, and there were plenty of journalists and activists willing to imagine them.
Now society faces an actual threat, and meanwhile our devil’s alliance with China has been irreparably damaged, it all seems so dated. Don’t these people know that it’s 2020?
I suppose maybe it looks like I’m doing the same, and just hoping that we’ll see a return to conservatism. I certainly don’t feel that way right now, and if anything I’d rather live in a society where social science graduates have to be employed to invent problems rather than one where we face real dangers. Most of all, though, I just hope that we land the plane.