FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Collectivism and the presumption of guilt
Back in March of 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama told a charming and funny story about how she supposedly slipped out to a Target department store on an undercover shopping run. (The Obamas are both shameless phonies, so of course this bit of Princess-and-Pauper mingling with the Little People was actually a staged publicity stunt – there just happened to be press photographers standing by to snap pictures of the First Lady’s exercise in recession chic.) At one point, a member of the proletariat approached Her Radiant Majesty and dared to ask her a question, making the disguised aristocrat think her cover was blown. To Her Majesty’s relief, the peasant merely wanted the much taller Mrs. Obama’s help getting a box of detergent down from a high shelf.
“I reached up, ’cause she was short, and I reached up, pulled it down… she said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to make it look so easy,'” Mrs. O told TV host Dave Letterman, collecting a round of laughter from the audience for this heartwarming anecdote. “That was my interaction. I felt so good.”
Two years later, Mrs. Obama suddenly recovered deeply repressed memories that revealed the encounter with that diminutive peasant at Target was actually a horrifying example of America’s deep-seated racism. In a new interview with People magazine, the First Lady scoffed at the notion that living in the White House shields the First Couple from racial prejudice. (Presumably she would also scoff at the idea that her very presence in the executive mansion says something about how non-racist America is.) As evidence, she cited that very same day at the Target, but now it was all about an arrogant white woman assuming that the black lady – who was secretly the wife of America’s sovereign emperor in disguise! – was there to step and fetch for her. Contrary to what she told David Letterman, Mrs. Obama suddenly didn’t feel good about the interaction at all. She also seems to have forgotten about the disparity in height between herself and the other Target shopper:
“I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.”
In a 30-minute conversation, the president and Mrs. Obama candidly added their stories to the national discussion of race and racial profiling that was sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.
“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” said the president, adding that, yes, it had happened to him.
Mrs. Obama recalled another incident: “He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”
(Hat tip to Ben Shapiro for remember Mrs. Obama’s earlier portrayal of the Target encounter.) That’s quite a sweeping statement from Mr. Obama – every black professional in America has been mistaken for a valet by white restaurant patrons? Does anyone in Obama’s lapdog press feel like researching the coffee incident and finding out if the First Lady just made it up, or is misrepresenting a more innocent moment as a snapshot of American racism? Of course not – they’d never even dream of doubting the Obamas, no matter how often they’re caught lying, and they’d never apply journalistic scrutiny to an anecdote that reinforces their preferred social narratives.
In a similar vein, not a single journalist in the world bothered to ask any tough questions when an Australian academic named Rachel Jacobs invented a phony anecdote about a Muslim woman fearfully removing her headscarf while riding a train during the Sydney hostage crisis. Moved almost to tears by this heartbreaking submission to Australian anti-Muslim racism, our feisty Social Justice Warrior claims to have sat beside the woman, helped her get that headscarf right back on, and walk her through the train station after arrival, where the Muslim woman expressed gratitude to Jacobs for her courage. A Twitter hashtag called #illridewithyou inspired by this incident collected hundreds of thousands of followers, becoming a global social media phenomenon.
Only after this flash in the Twitter pan had subsided did Jacobs cheerfully admit she fabricated the entire incident, peddling a fairy tale about her immense courage in the face of imaginary intolerance because, by gum, if there had been any actual intolerance on display, that’s what she would have done. Jacobs isn’t sorry about perpetrating a global hoax; on the contrary, she’s immensely proud of herself for telling such a useful lie, even as she concedes she didn’t even know if the woman with the headscarf was a Muslim, and might have been removing it because the train car was a bit stuffy. She wants credit for spreading such an “inspirational” story, even though the story was false. She described her casual slander of Australian society as “a pre-emptive strike against racism and bigotry.”
Over at Sony Pictures, which just endured a pre-emptive strike against mockery of North Korea’s sacred dictator Kim Jong Un, there’s more bad news in the wind, as its expensive holiday remake of “Annie” has been racking up scathing reviews. The movie was among the Sony property stolen by North Korean hackers and disseminated online, but it’s evidently so bad people aren’t even bothering to watch it for free.
A legion of Social Justice Warriors marched onto the Internet and declared the real reason for all those bad reviews, including brutal slams from the longtime movie critics at liberal dinosaur papers like the New York Times, could only be… wait for it… racism. “Annie,” you see, is a retelling of the story that features black actors playing both Little Orphan Annie and the Daddy Warbucks character.
Speaking of musical numbers, actor Samuel L. Jackson – who grew rich beyond the wildest dreams of middle-class America by appearing in some of the most popular films ever made – has scanned the minds of America’s police officers, and discovered murderous racism lurking behind their sunglasses. He put together a music video in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries refusing to hand down indictments against white police officers in the death of black men, where he sings: “I can hear my neighbor cryin’ ‘I can’t breath.’ Now I’m in the struggle, and I can’t leave. Calling out of the violence of the racist police, we ain’t gonna stop till people are free.”
“I can’t breathe” were the last words of Eric Garner, who could not possibly have been in a “choke hold” when he spoke them, but leave that aside for a moment. There is absolutely no reason to believe the deaths of either Garner or Michael Brown had anything to do with racism. The arrest Garner died while resisting was overseen by a black female police sergeant.
What all of these stories, and so many others, have in common is the assumption of bad faith by liberals, who claim they can read the minds of everyone from dinner-party guests to society at large and detect the dark secret impulses seething beneath every word and deed. The worst bad motives are assumed for every action, including something as harmless as a short woman asking a taller department-store patron to grab a box of detergent off the top shelf for her. If events that cannot be construed as social-justice crimes are not ready to hand, the liberal will simply invent them, transforming lies into Deeper Truth with the magical power of leftist ideology. We’re even presumed guilty of crimes no one actually committed, most notably the horrible “anti-Muslim backlash” that never actually happens after Muslim terrorists commit atrocities.
This presumption of guilt is absolutely crucial to collectivism. The Left must teach its subjects to think of themselves as criminals. That’s the only way law-abiding people will endure levels of coercive power that would normally require specific accusations, a fair trial, and the possibility of appeals. Social-justice “crimes” can be prosecuted without any of those things. There is no appeal from the sentence, and no statute of limitations on the crimes, as any left-winger who thinks today’s American citizens need to suffer for the historical offense of slavery will be happy to explain to you. There’s no evidence you can present in your defense, for the Left has read your mind, and knows better than you what demons lurk in its recesses.
This is one reason the Left dislikes the trappings of constitutional law and order. The presumption of innocence is highly inconvenient for social crusades; it’s the antithesis of collective political “justice.” The current demonstrations against police officers include explicit calls to deny them due process (sometimes escalating to simply calling for their summary execution.) The Obama White House is said to be thinking about stripping police officers of grand jury protection, since those procedures have such a disappointing tendency to review evidence and decide charges are not warranted. The mob wants this because they are said to have “lost confidence” in the legal system. In other words, their ideology has revealed who is guilty, so legal proceedings based on overcoming the stout hurdle of presumed innocence are mere trickery to frustrate the righteous crusade.
Campus culture, the fetid breeding ground of collectivist ideology, bubbles with the presumption of guilt. All this stuff about “trigger warnings” and demanding protection from perceived offense, to the extent it’s not just a cynical power play, is based on the notion that targeted speakers are guilty of offenses they might even be aware of. Arguments that run contrary to collectivist ideology are never offered in good faith by honest dissenters – they’re always sinister tricks cooked up by devils out to impose racist hierarchies, sexist patriarchies, and capitalist oligarchies. People marinated in this drivel have been growing up and moving into positions of political and cultural influence for years, bringing this payload of presumed guilt against all who dissent against the noble Left with them. You know the litany of pre-litigated, pre-judged thought crimes by now: you’re just a tool of your corporate masters, you just enjoy watching poor people suffer for the hell of it, you want women to be slaves…
It’s very convenient to declare that you don’t have to engage with dissenting ideas because they all drip from forked tongues, but there’s more to the liberal presumption of social guilt than that. It also flatters their egos – the Anointed Ones are the only members of society who aren’t guilty of prejudice, even when they display the most corrosive prejudice towards the groups they don’t like. Most importantly, it illuminates their vision of a righteous elite exercising vast power to force virtue upon miserable, unworthy citizens, who cannot be left unregulated to indulge their monstrous impulses. If you think micro-regulators should be running society, and government should be taxing money away from the proletariat before they hurt themselves with it, then by definition you don’t think very much of the people you’re planning to tax and regulate. You must see them as thieves, exploiters, and haters… their vision too short, and too clouded with bigotry, to make important decisions about the fate of the nation. Leftists have a boundless appetite for stories that reinforce their low opinion of the people they dominate… and to be honest, some of the dominated are hungry for reassurance that they did the right thing by ceding control of their lives, and the lives of their neighbors, to the Left. People who have relinquished their freedom must learn to think poorly of themselves, if they are to sleep well at night.