“Times have changed. It’s not the nineties anymore.” So says a TV commercial for a brokerage firm. Presumably, the lesson is that investment strategies that worked then won’t work now: the market has changed and so should you.
Times have changed in other respects also. The assumptions that one could safely make about the world in the nineties no longer seem operative. Yet it’s not at all clear that the government and the citizenry are making the necessary adjustments. To judge by our society’s complacency about world events, many of us seem to assume that it still is the nineties, or, more precisely, that we can still rely on yesterday’s suppositions.
But the fact is, we’ve entered a new era with new rules. It was ushered in on September 11, 2001, and for a while it did seem that many recognized the radical nature of the change. But when no more attacks followed (at least, not in America), a good many reverted to pre-9/11 habits of thoughts, which is to say, to a mindset that is largely unable to grasp the new realities.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
Perhaps that’s because, though less dramatic, the changes that occurred post-9/11 were so numerous, so rapid, and so fundamental that the adjustments required to comprehend them were too painful to make.
The most obvious change is the rebirth of militant Islam. And that threat alone has several facets: the Iranian nuclear threat, the Islamic jihad threat, and the stealth jihad threat. Islam’s recent history is proof that human affairs don’t always move in a forward direction. Indeed, the resurgence of fundamentalist Islam marks one of the great regressions of world history. Suddenly, in historical terms, the world was thrust back not to the 1990s but to the 690s. For modern Western societies, it was not so much a case of future shock but of “past shock”—an encounter with a past that seemed almost incomprehensible.
Citizens of the early twenty-first century were no more prepared for the return of honor killings, sex slavery, and beheadings than they would have been for the arrival of robots in spaceships. So, face-to-face with the seventh century, contemporary readers of entrails explained these barbarities in the only way they knew how—that is, in terms of a twentieth-century framework. Thus it was supposed that the jihadists were raping, beheading, and crucifying because they couldn’t find jobs or because they were still chafing from past imperialism.
In addition to the resurgence of Islam, the West has been faced with a series of other massive transformations—all compressed into a short period of time. Some of these changes are also regressive in nature: nothing on the scale of Islam’s great leap backward, but still disturbingly reminiscent of bad times we thought we had left behind us. Among other back-to-the-past events that we are trying to cope with are:
- An economic recession that bears a resemblance to the Great Depression
- A return to the kind of racial discord and division that marred the sixties
- Increasingly dangerous cities reminiscent of the worst days of the seventies and eighties when muggers roamed city streets, and movie audiences cheered on Charles Bronson’s vigilante hero in Death Wish.
- The vampire-like return of the organized left, now stronger than ever after a brief period of dormancy and thirsting for blood as never before.
- The beginnings of a new cold war with Russia.
- The spread of diseases that were once believed to be eradicated, or else thoroughly under control.
Admittedly, not all of the changes we face are replays of the past. Some of the challenges confronting us are genuinely new. The dystopian societies predicted by Orwell and Huxley appear to have arrived ahead of schedule. Of course, Orwell has the Soviet Union in mind when he wrote 1984. So Orwellian societies aren’t entirely new. What’s new is the emergence of quasi-Orwellian cultures all over the West. What we experience is not quite the total control exercised by Ingsoc in the novel, but rather a world in which traditional values and freedoms are slowly giving way to therapeutic imperatives. The thought control of the early twenty-first century is exercised in the name of “tolerance” and “sensitivity,” but it is applied in a ruthlessly effective manner. You won’t go to jail for saying the incorrect thing (although that time is rapidly approaching), but you might well lose your reputation and your job.
What’s also new is the expanded role played by the media and entertainment industries in creating and enforcing this soft totalitarianism. One way they do this is by reinforcing the State’s anti-marriage, anti-church agenda. Totalitarian societies always strive to break an individual’s local loyalties and transfer them to the State. Since the main rivals to the State are church and family, absolutist governments will do their best to control and remake these institutions. The entertainment industry, which once supported church and family, now works to deconstruct them. TV networks normalized same-sex “marriage” long before the Supreme Court did. And the sitcoms and talk shows have long pedaled the notion that alternative families are cool.
The attempt to remake the family is a truly revolutionary change, yet judging by various polls, the majority seem unable to grasp the radical nature of the experiment. It’s difficult to comprehend because one other feature of totalitarian thought control is the erasure of the past and its replacement with ersatz history. Thus, it becomes nearly impossible to understand events in context since the context has disappeared down the memory hole. In 1984 it is believed that because Oceania was at war with Eurasia, “therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.” In 2015 we may be approaching the point where it will be widely believed that same-sex “marriage” has always been a part of our tradition.
Occasionally, the entertainment industry manages to break out of the mold and cast a critical eye on itself. The film version of The Hunger Games series does a fine job of showing how entertainers can be enlisted both to support a totalitarian government and to undermine traditional notions of gender and family. The Master of Ceremonies of the games is a composite of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer, and other talk show personalities. He is a master of the tell-us-how-you-feel therapeutic style, and also of the therapeutic technique of reducing all serious relationships to the level of sentimental kitsch. His sexuality is ambiguous. Is he gay? Bisexual? Transsexual? It’s hard to tell. The same can be said of many of the social elites in Panemian society. They sport elaborate hairdos tinted with blues, pinks, and greens, and many of them have a drag-queenish manner about them. Quite obviously, the upper classes have little use for traditional gender roles. In one sense, they have been set free to take on whatever superficial identities they wish, yet they are all servants of the regime. They serve to put a sentimental and therapeutic gloss on a brutal system.
What has all this got to do with the threat from militant Islam? More than you’d think. Our society is not yet quite as Orwellian as the one depicted in The Hunger Games, but it’s headed in that direction. We have already suffered a significant loss of historical context and social memory. In that environment, current events are perceived, to borrow a phrase from Elbert Hubbard, as “just one damned thing after another.” Without the vantage point that a knowledge of history offers there’s no way of telling which of those things is important. Like the remaking of marriage, the advance of Islam in recent decades is a truly revolutionary movement. In fact, the chief twentieth-century architects of Islamism—people like Sayyid Qutb and Maulana A’la Maududi—envisioned the Islamist movement in exactly that way. But, as with the marriage revolution, few seem able to grasp the radical nature of this historical shift.
A revolutionary movement to take over the world? If you watch too much television, you might get the impression that the main threat to our society is not jihad, but something called “Islamophobia”—an irrational fear of Islam. “Islamophobia,” of course, is a therapeutic term, and like other therapeutic terms—“homophobia,” for instance—it is designed to divert attention away from the main issues. “Islamophobia” is the fashionable kind of threat that media personalities are accustomed to fret over. It has nothing to do with churches being burned or with cities being bombed, and everything to do with sensitivity to feelings.
You may be tempted to laugh at this inversion of priorities, just as you may be tempted to laugh about the new gender rules. But, as Mark Steyn writes in regard to the latter, “nobody who matters, nobody who makes decisions for you and yours, nobody in the vast state apparatus is laughing.” For them, it’s all deadly serious and it’s always full steam ahead. Meanwhile, their civilization-destroying experiments with marriage and family are producing individuals who are so absorbed in their own issues that they can scarcely see any larger issues. The progeny of the marriage revolution can barely recognize the Islamization process, let alone find the strength to resist it.
A few paragraphs back, I said that we are experiencing “past shock”—an encounter with brutal traditions that were long thought extinct. But that’s not completely accurate. The only ones who are shocked are those members of our society who grew up in a more civilized American culture than the one we now have. Many of the younger set aren’t shocked by the brutality and some of them rather fancy it. Else why would videotaped beheadings be such a successful recruiting tool for the Islamic State?
How does one explain this lack of shock? The problem, once again, is the toxic mix of family disintegration and media manipulation. Our experiments in family deconstruction were underway long before the advent of same-sex “marriage.” And the result was a multitude of single-parent households and double-worker families in which the socialization of children was largely turned over to TV, violent video games, violent and misogynist music, and the peer group (gangs in some cases). I recently read an article which described a group of English mothers conversing in a park while their children played nearby. The subject of pornography came up and some of the parents wondered aloud where it could be found. Overhearing this, the children, almost in unison, volunteered the name “Porn Hub”—a British site which, according to the author, specializes in sado-masochistic pornography.
If you want to know why we are not quite as shocked as we should be by the reappearance of things like sex slavery, consider that the socialization of our children has been handed over to organizations like Porn Hub. Consider further that certain kinds of brutality, such as abortion, are widely accepted in our society. And, as with Panem, the brutality is most strongly endorsed by the fashionable elites. The point is, a culture that is undergoing a moral regression of its own is less likely to notice that another major historical regression is unfolding. Head chopping is intrinsically disturbing, but not quite so disturbing if you live in a society where highly regarded organizations buy and sell baby parts.
No, it’s not the nineties anymore. What we are witnessing is the rebirth of something far more primitive and savage. As the TV commercial suggests, you can lose a lot of money if you don’t keep up with trends in the market. If you don’t keep up with historical and social trends, you can lose both your money and those more precious things that money can’t buy.