Part 2—The soul of the pseudo-progressive: Would anyone but the New York Times ever have published such nonsense?
We refer to the anguished, eliminationist-favored essay by 27-year-old Tom Whyman, a young philosophy lecturer who took last week's Brexit vote rather hard.
Poor Whyman! In Hampshire County, where he summers with his mum, 55 percent of his fellow Brits had voted for Leave. Whyman himself would have voted Remain, had he actually managed to vote.
Displaying familiar contempt for The Others, the narrow win by Leave led Whyman to vilify all his neighbors and all his fellow citizens. He specifically cited the 80-somethings who look at him "with blank stares."
Are we sure he wasn't thinking of the unfortunate teenagers in his philosophy classes?
So upset was Whyman by the vote, in which he didn't himself take part, he imagined a better world, in which all his neighbors were dead, or at least no longer existed. An anguished headline topped his piece:
"Hell is Other Britons," the headline dramatically said.
There's no sign that his New York Times editors knew it, but Whyman was channeling Sartre, the deep-thinking existentialist deep thinker. More specifically, he was channeling an anguished line from Sartre's anguished 1944 dramaturgical work, Huis Clos (No Exit).
Here! We'll let the world's leading authority limn it:
No Exit (French: Huis Clos) is a 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre. The original title is the French equivalent of the legal term in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors...Hell is other people—presumably, all other people! That's the way poor Whyman felt in the wake of the narrow election in which, in best slackistentialist fashion, he himself failed to take part.
The play is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It is the source of Sartre's especially famous and often misinterpreted quotation "L'enfer, c'est les autres" or "Hell is other people," a reference to Sartre's ideas about the look and the perpetual ontological struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object in the world of another consciousness.
In the wake of the Brexit vote, did Whyman find himself caught in the perpetual ontological struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object in the world of another consciousness? In a sense, but not as such!
At any rate, the New York Times rushed to publish the ridiculous, human-hating madness which had started life as a blog post. And the Times must have loved Whyman's post a great deal. They made the youngster's ludicrous piece the featured essay on the front page of last weekend's hard-copy Sunday Review. Presumably, they dumped some other piece at the last minute, they loved Whyman's essay so much.
(Full disclosure: We were forced to read Huis Clos as a high school senior, part of our French 5 class. At least one local wag rewrote Sartre's famous line at that time. "Hell is being required to read Huis Clos," this local wag thoughtfully said.)
Would anyone but the New York Times have published such an appalling piece? We will guess that the answer is no—but in comments, many Times readers seemed to understand the point of the piece within the New York Times context.
These commenters happily told the world how great the young philosopher's essay was. More specifically, they said the essay reminded them of the hell of the other people in the American towns where they had been forced to grow up.
Progressives, can we talk? In the context of the New York Times, Whyman's essay was an attack on Those People, The Others, the sluggard white working class.
Holding contempt for such people has long been a prominent part of pseudo-progressive culture. Such open contempt lies at the soul of the foppish Times and its low-IQ, self-impressed readers.
There's a long history here. In the 1950s, Hollywood films of William Inge scripts helped the world understand that everyone in the Midwest was crazy. See, for example, Splendor in the Grass and Picnic.
(We especially recommend Rosalind Russell's especially crazy breakdown in Picnic.)
At the same time, Hollywood films of Tennessee Williams and Erskine Caldwell scripts helped us see that everyone in the white South was crazy. (We especially recommend Baby Doll and God's Little Acre.) The mentality behind such works produced a famous moment in December 1972, when Times film critic Pauline Kael expressed surprise that Nixon had won the White House again.
“I live in a rather special world," Kael was quoted saying, by her own New York Times. "I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”
She didn't say that she could smell them. But an extremist would say that she was tilting that way.
Existentialists, please! Disdain for the white working class is a long-standing staple of pseudoliberal culture. We'll guess that the New York Times saw its spirit in Whyman's human-hating piece, in which he announced that his home town is "my own personal hell;" that "you will find the demons crawling" if you examine life in that town; and, most gloriously, that "Hell is Other Britons."
Among the right-thinking philosopher class, contempt for The Others can run very strong where The Others are the white working-class. Consider a book review in last Wednesday's New York Times.
The review was written by Dwight Garner, a perfectly reasonable New York Times book reviewer. The new book bears a daring, provocative title:
"White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America"
The new book is by Professor Isenberg of LSU. We often marvel at her political pieces in the new improved Salon. We soon found ourselves puzzled by aspects of her new book.
As he started his review, Garner indicated that Isenberg's sentiments lay with the lower-income whites whose history she was writing. More specifically, it seemed that Isenberg was writing in protest of the way this group has been reviled down through American history.
That said, we were soon puzzled by some quotations from Isenberg's book—by this one, for example:
GARNER (6/22/16): America did not develop a House of Lords, yet we imported the rigging of the British class system, Ms. Isenberg argues. This was hardly a land of equal opportunity. Brutal labor awaited most migrants. There was little social mobility.It would leave its mark on white trash, full stop? White trash, with no scare quotes around the pejorative term?
“Puritan religious faith did not displace class hierarchy, either; the early generations of New Englanders did nothing to diminish, let alone condemn, the routine reliance on servants or slaves,” she observes. “Land was the principal source of wealth, and those without any had little chance to escape servitude. It was the stigma of landlessness that would leave its mark on white trash from this day forward.”
That seemed like a strange thing to write. But as we continued along, Garner dropped a few similar quotes:
GARNER: From this beginning, Ms. Isenberg moves confidently forward, through, for example, the class issues that undergirded the Civil War and the popular eugenics movement, favored by Theodore Roosevelt, that marked many as targets for sterilization. Slavery and racism are hardly discounted in this book, but she maintains her focus on poor whites.Really? We might call North Carolina the white trash colony, full stop? Bill Clinton's affair could be likened to a “white trash outing on the grand national stage?"
She singles out North Carolina as “what we might call the first white trash colony.” It was swampy and, thanks to its shoal-filled shoreline, lacked a major port. It had no real planter class. Its citizens were viewed as sluggards, “cowardly Blockheads” in the words of one early writer. Another referred to the state as the lawless “sinke of America.”
Trailer parks, redolent of “liberty’s dark side,” come under her appraisal, as do movies like “Deliverance.” (She finds its redneck caricatures to be loathsome.) The careers of Dolly Parton, Jimmy Carter, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Bill Clinton are analyzed. Mr. Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky resulted in a spectacle that the author likens to a “white trash outing on the grand national stage.”
We were puzzled by the use of this pejorative in a book by an august professor. And alas! When we got a chance to examine Professor Isenberg's actual book, it seemed to us that she was strangely cavalier in her use of this ugly pejorative.
Her carelessness seemed to have infected her publisher. This text is taken live and direct from the book's dust jacket:
The wretched and landless poor have always been a part of American culture from the time of the earliest British colonial settlements. In her ground-breaking history of the class system in America, Nancy Isenberg explodes our comforting myths about equality in the land of opportunity, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present poor white trash.
"The ever-present poor white trash?" That strikes us as unusual language—but at the Penguin Random House web site, the formulation is even stranger.
The lofty publisher refers to, and yes we're quoting, "the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing—if occasionally entertaining—poor white trash." That formulation strikes us as deeply strange, and yet as highly familiar.
Darn those poor white trash! They're always embarrassing, if occasionally entertaining! So of course are the pseudo-progressives who produce the weekly Sunday Review, perhaps the most foppish Sunday section American journalism has ever produced.
"Hell is Other [People]," a rather peculiar young Brit declared. The New York Times rushed his craziness into print.
Reading comments, it seemed to us that readers had discerned the message. The finer folk always seem to know what people like Whyman have meant.
Tomorrow: Hell is the white working class
Later today: Deep-thinking Sartre's apricot cocktails