Shapes of things (19)

“Death to me!” is the title of the best column I have read on the sordid ritual of public confessions following the “woke” party line. By David Mikics, the column draws on the history of false confessions by Communists caught up in the purges of the Soviet Union’s Stalin era. It is a history with which every literate American should be familiar, but it appears to be as obscure in the mind of Americans as the Peloponnesian War.

The column provides a good account of recent events at the New York Times to illustrate the phenomenon. As Mikics observes, the Times is part of the story today, in support of the “woke” party line, and yesterday as well, in support of the Communist Party line. Some things don’t change.

As Mikics notes, however, Stalin had incredibly powerful tools of conformity at his disposal. What’s going on in the land of the free? Mikics addresses this point:

Of course, America is not Soviet Russia, or, for that matter, Xi’s China. Our new political commissars don’t use torture, prison cells, and executions. Today’s woke ideology can be publicly attacked, unlike communism in the Soviet Union. Its critics are in fact legion: According to polls, most Americans of all genders and ethnicities think political correctness is a problem. But people are afraid for their careers, and so they remain silent—no matter how much “power” or “privilege” they ostensibly have.

Fear explains a lot. However, I’m not sure that ignorance, repetition, and a false sense of guilt don’t contribute as well.

Among other things, Mikics is a scholar of Saul Bellow. Bellow’s great adage comes to mind: “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” In any event, the Mikics column makes a valiant effort to understand this mystifying and destructive phenomenon.