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Shhekdzkw, lxcvthe? Zshtr!
i can't even understand what you're saying
Benjamin Franklin spent a whole bunch of his adult life in Europe, to the chagrin of his much-neglected wife. And he loved it. Living in London as British colonists in America reacted to the Stamp Act with incandescent rage, Franklin felt compelled to explain the popular anger to the English — and to show them how silly their own growing fury at the colonists had become. Here’s what the historian Gordon Wood says about it, describing colonial expressions of bitterness and Franklin’s lighter approach:
Franklin’s response was inevitably different. As a distinguished scientist and world celebrity and the recipient of several British honorary degrees, he naturally possessed a self-confidence and a sense of equality with most Britons that few of his fellow colonists could match. When he heard or read the aspersions that the English were casting upon his countrymen, he generally reacted, at least at first, not with self-protective outrage, but with reason, humor, and satire.
Mocking British anger in the English press, Franklin published a satirical piece arguing that the best approach to Stamp Act resistance would be to kill every colonist and burn their cities. “No man in his Wits, after such terrible Military Execution, will refuse to purchase stamp’d paper,” he wrote, trying to make light of rage to the people who felt it. The response to his funny essay, he discovered, was not that fun, because London elites thought the satirical idea was actually not far from being a fairly decent proposal. Wood:
Sarcastic responses like this — indeed, satire in general — supposed commonly understood standards of rightness and reasonableness. Since a satirist like Franklin could expose to instantaneous ridicule only what was readily considered ridiculous by his readers, he necessarily believed he was on intimate terms with them and could count on their sharing his tastes and viewpoint… With such satirical exaggeration Franklin assumed that he and his London readership were participating in the same moral universe — something his fellow Americans were coming increasingly to doubt.
You think you’re having the same conversation with people who share your moral universe — “commonly understood standards of rightness and reasonableness” — and you find out that you aren’t. Right?
So here’s the conservative journalist Helen Andrews, commenting on the lingering social crisis at the end of the supposed medical crisis:
You’ll never guess what kind of responses she gets. This one is pretty typical:
As is this one:
But this one is my favorite:
“Nor should it ever aspire to.”
What a shame that so many people gave up their freedom so easily.
We do not seek freedom, in violation of the common good, nor should we ever aspire to.
Now, I grant that pseudonymous Twitter randos with three likes on a dumb tweet aren’t reasonably construed to represent the zeitgeist. But I’m still amazed to wake up surrounded by these people. The reflex to default to collectivism is the first shock, but the bigger one is the presumptive correctness of bureaucratic action: government did it, so it was good, so you’re bad for resisting it. In my own suburban city in the summer of 2020, I loudly questioned the public health rationale for padlocking outdoor tennis courts, and repeatedly asked local government officials to explain the risk of contracting a respiratory illness from someone on the other side of a net outside in the sun. Then our city manager — who has since departed — responded to my persistent questions about a silly public health measure by asking the police to visit my house to do a threat assessment and determine if I was a domestic terrorist. (About the police, who I know pretty well in our small town: We drank coffee in my backyard and talked about how stupid the world was becoming.) Q: Does this work? A: Why are you a terrorist?
Elsewhere on Sustack, eugyppius notes that a prominent San Francisco physician has posted a 25-tweet thread to cautiously declare his newfound willingness to sometimes sneak out of the house without a mask. Pretty funny, but many of the responses to that physician are that WTF DO YOU MEAN YOU’LL GO OUT WITHOUT A MASK WHY ARE YOU A MURDERER!?!?!?
We necessarily believe we’re on intimate terms with our families and neighbors, and can count on their sharing our tastes and viewpoint. Discovering that it isn’t so, we discover not the challenge of discussion but the impossibility of discussion. It’s the equivalent of Cathy Newman interviewing Jordan Peterson: What you’re saying is that you want to murder everyone with your facial aerosols? And so we have a vertical discussion about top-down authority and officialdom — how do we get the Faucis and the Barbara Ferrers and the Jacinda Arderns to stop doing this to us? — but we also have a dilemma in our own neighborhoods, horizontally. That one may be the harder problem, because the people who surround you in your daily life are, socially and culturally, the enforcers. It’s at least interesting to discover the possibility of regarding them that way.
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