There is a phenomenon here in the Northeast where being conservative—no, wait, being not left—is to turn everyone in the room into Donald Sutherland from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, screaming and pointing at you as if you’re an alien pod person.
I hear Berkeley is bad, and Madison is the only place I’ve ever seen one-person protest marches, but here in New York things are intense. It is a given that the political right is a cartoon pig who will do anything for money and wants everyone who isn’t a cartoon pig to die. The End. Nobody has ever questioned this and every time I do, it creates a hole in the space-time continuum that swallows the entire universe, or at least ruins the party.
During a break while I was working on a travel show recently, Anthony Bourdain was sitting at the lunch table and mentioned he’d like to skin Glenn Beck alive. Everyone nodded as if he’d said he enjoys tiramisu. I kept my mouth shut. A few months earlier I was in a similar environment when a cameraman casually mentioned he’d like to “kick Sarah Palin in the cunt.” This got the same placid reaction and when I begged to differ, it started a two-hour argument that ruined everybody’s day. That’s the problem with grazing amid a leftist herd. You’re constantly on the edge of a huge argument.
But when you don’t say anything, you hate yourself. I was on vacation in Mexico with a group consisting mostly of comedy writers, and a conversation began about Al Gore’s wonderfulness. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to bum everyone out (especially my wife), but I didn’t sleep well that night and it still bothers me.
During a dinner party in Maine, the hostess told us a bunch of Internet rednecks ruined the immigration-reform bill on which she’d been working. I confessed I was one of said rednecks, and a nice dinner turned into a nice big fight that ended the night early. As everyone angrily grabbed their coats, the host said to my wife, “Your husband is a big bore,” and we haven’t been invited back, but I have no regrets about that night.
How did we get to this point? The way I remember things, the left used to be the chin-scratching, idea-weighing side where dissent was encouraged. I don’t think my views have changed. I still hate the government and despite the laughter it brings, I’d still call myself a feminist. The problem is, when the president is black and the fanatics who are oppressing women are brown, it’s racist to complain about the government and religion. The left went from thinking outside the box to becoming myopically fixated on anything that sounds mean or benefits “white males” (AKA someone who reminds them of dad). What remains is a sea of knee-jerk liberals who aren’t just intolerant of other points of view, they literally can’t handle the truth.
I don’t get that from the other side. Maybe it’s because the so-called conservatives I know live in the eye of the storm, but if you say something to William McGowan or Peter Brimelow or John Carney or even Jared Taylor that totally contradicts their beliefs, they’re as polite as British butlers. They’ve usually heard the point before and after a nod will say, “Yeah, but…” followed by a calm and reasonable explanation of why they think I’m wrong. When they say something about our Lord Jesus Christ, I don’t have to wonder whether I’m dropping a neutron bomb on the evening by disagreeing. I just speak my mind. Isn’t that was conversations are all about? Isn’t that what makes us superior to animals? It’s not genes that got us here, it’s memes. While monkeys scream oooh-eeeh-aaah-aah to no avail, we say to our fellow cavemen, “Stay away from saber-toothed tigers. I just saw them eat some dude.”
Last Saturday, I was staying with an old friend in Hudson, NY, and he had a bunch of people over who were mostly fellow musicians and filmmakers. I was in a room full of artistes whom I didn’t know and was regaling them with stories of having sex after having kids because most of them were still single and thought it was funny. Things were going swimmingly until I made the mistake of bringing up The New York Times and how they are so anti-family they pretend homosexuals banging in a parking lot are just like the dads in the same parking lot taking their kids to soccer games. This led the conversation to the Times’ glowing review of Mark Ruffalo’s anti-normal-family movie The Kids Are All Right, and one of the women at the party mentioned her film company is presenting Ruffalo an award next week for his grassroots work in the fight against fracking. Uh-oh. Here we go again.
“Oh yeah, fracking,” I said. “That horrible thing that gives us 90% of our natural gas.” A filmmaker there named Tony laughed because he assumed I was kidding, but when I assured I him I was serious he said, “Wait, do you believe in global warming?” What happened next is what happens every time you depart from orthodoxy: group panic. We’ve all been there. You don’t want to wreck everyone’s good time and you wish everyone could keep cool, but allowing their hysteria to censor you is ridiculous, so you open your big mouth. “I’m dubious,” I said. He didn’t believe me. I assured him I wasn’t kidding. He remained skeptical. I finally convinced him I wasn’t playing devil’s advocate.
Bang! Tony is up on his feet and his finger is in my face. (They always do that) “Do you realize that 60% of this country believes in creationism? That’s who you’re associating yourself with. Do you believe in creationism, too?” I stood up and tried to explain the logical fallacy of guilt by association, but now his wife and two other people were standing and finger-pointing, too. “Don’t you think it’s strange that the science against global warming is all funded by oil companies?” Then they did this thing liberals do where they make a sarcastic idiot face with their finger on their chin and say, “Hmm, I wonder why that could be? Gee, I guess they care about science. Yeah, that’s it.” I had to yell to be heard at this point and kept saying, “I don’t care who’s saying it or what anyone’s motive is to say anything. John Wayne Gacy can tell me murder is wrong, and it’s still wrong. All I care about is the facts.” I told them Hitler used toilet paper but that doesn’t mean we’re tied in with his shit just because we use it, too. I even yelled, “All cats are mammals. All dogs are mammals. All cats are not dogs.” But I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. This screaming match wasn’t meant to get to the truth. It was meant to wake me up from being an ignorant heretic who’d chosen the Dark Side. They allowed zero possibility I knew what I was talking about. I disagreed with them and therefore I was ignorant.
“The past ten years have shown the hottest days in history,” someone yelled, and I said that even if that was true it’s totally irrelevant when we’re talking about a planet that is billions of years old. I said the hottest day on record was a hundred years ago and they used to grow grapes in Scotland. It annoyed me that everyone was getting their facts from a movie. Why are they ready to take on the world after watching TV for an hour and a half? A woman yelled, “Well, I’d take Al Gore over Ann Coulter any day,” and everyone laughed enthusiastically in agreement.
“Why?” I asked. “Because he flies all over the country in his private jet using more fuel than any of us will in our entire lives?” Allegations were coming at me like villagers attacking Frankenstein. “It’s about the ideas, not the person,” someone barked. I couldn’t even see who was saying what. I noticed that a young black kid seemed to be the only one interested in hearing both sides. “Not one person in this room has read one sentence by Ann Coulter,” I chastised them. “Her books are clear and calm and crammed with footnotes.” This made everyone guffaw and I have no idea why. What’s so funny about footnotes?
“Fine!” I yelled during a break in the shouting. “Explain this to me, then: Why is it life expectancy—not just here but everywhere on Earth—has been on a steady climb since we began recording it?”
“Not anymore,” Tony hollered back. “America’s just started to go down.” The beauty of arguing in 2011 is that Google is never far away. “All right,” I said, “let’s just choose that one random statement to do a fact check.” I went over to the computer and began sifting through the piles of confusing results you get when looking up average human lifespan, but the pages were taking forever to load. This left me vulnerable because my back was to the mob and they pounced.
“You KNOW things are getting worse,” Tony’s wife yelled. “Everything is getting more polluted and we’re running out of fuel. We can’t sustain this culture!”
“We’ve always been screaming that,” I replied without screaming. “Nietzsche said we were doomed. Then it was nuclear war with the Russians. They said we were out of oil in the 1970s. This ‘sky is falling’ mentality is a huge part of what defines Western culture.”
Every time I made a good point like that, the argument completely changed course. This is not how a good discussion operates; it’s more like a strategic battle. “You have kids,” Tony yelled in my face. “You want them to go to war fighting for oil? You want them to die because we don’t have energy solutions here?” This is one of the few times I got genuinely angry and told him never to mention my fucking kids in an argument again. Liberals always have to make it personal.
Tony sat down and his wife took over to calm things down. “Look,” she said in her best maternal voice, “he’s not trying to manipulate you using your kids.” I told her that’s exactly what he’s trying to do and she said, “He’s just saying we need to find another solution.” I told the room we were trying to do that with natural gas, but that they shut it down because there was an accident: “We can’t have coal or oil and you won’t allow natural gas, so what does that leave?”
Tony stood back up and explained the merits of wind and solar power. Germany was doing well with wind, and his house was now completely solar. I commended both him and Germany but said these tiny solutions are decades from doing anything substantial and it would involve a massive infrastructure. “Who’s going to build it?” I asked.
“The government,” Tony responded. “We need to force the government to stop doing whatever the oil companies tell them to do and we need them to start creating green jobs.” I was flabbergasted. “The fact that you think the government can do ANYTHING right—let alone create an entire workforce out of thin air—baffles me,” I said. Things were finally dying down because we were getting to some inexorable differences. “What happened to you?” the host asked. “We used to be punks. We used to hate corporations.”
“I still do!” I said incredulously. “But I hate the government more. At least big business provides a service for the money they take from me and at least they don’t tell us how to live our lives.” Everyone in the room was exhausted and there was no going back to a casual party, so they all started to gather their stuff to leave. “If you don’t know that big business is the lesser of the two evils,” I told them all, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
As people headed for the door, the black kid who had remained quiet finally said, “So what was the result with the lifespan?” People rolled their eyes and waited by the front door as Tony joined me by the computer. The results were in. Apparently Americans’ lifespan is still on the same upward trajectory it’s always been; it’s just that “some” experts “predict” that it “could” decline. I announced that to the people by the front door and then added, “You people don’t just think it could decline. You want it to decline. You look forward to your own extinction. And that is the fundamental difference between you and me.” They shook their heads in disgust and the whole party walked out, including the enlightened black kid. As the host shut the door behind them, he looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Thanks a lot.”
I sort of apologized with a shrug and went up to my room, where I slept like a baby.