Posted by Curt on 9 December, 2014 at 4:29 pm. 2 comments already!



Well aside from “If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor,” or blanket amnesty that is and is not lawful for a president to grant, there is a special category of progressive mythology. Or rather a particular cast of “truth tellers,” victims, supposed whistle blowers, and popular liberal icons who spin tales for a supposedly higher good, on the premise that untruth for a cause makes it sort of true.

From the details of Rigoberta Menchú’s memoir, to Tawana Brawley’s supposed rape, to the O. J. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” myth, to the open-and-shut case of the hate-crime crucifixion of Matthew Shepard by savage homophobes, to Dan Rather’s fake but accurate National Guard memo, to the Duke lacrosse team’s supposed racist raping, to Barack Obama’s autobiographic interludes with his girlfriend, to Scott Beauchamp’s “true” stories of American military atrocities in Iraq, to Lena Dunham’s purported right-wing sexual assaulter at Oberlin College (home of the 2013 epidemic of pseudo-racist graffiti), to the pack of University of Virginia fraternity rapists on the loose, to “Hands up, don’t shoot,” we have come to appreciate that facts and truth are not that important, if myths can better serve social progress or the careers of those on the correct side of history.

The new generation of progressive mythmaking has taken up where prior generations left off. In the old progressive mythology, Alger Hiss never passed on U.S. secrets. Instead, he was a tortured idealist, intent on preventing the descent of America into dangerous know-nothing McCarthyism. The Rosenbergs really did not spy for the Soviet Union — or if they did, it was to help a wartime ally with a similar anti-fascist agenda. JFK and RFK were gunned down by right-wing conspirators, fueled by a larger culture of reactionary hatred. Rigoberta Menchú wrote her own factual autobiography — or at least wanted to.

Why is there this overarching need to fabricate iconic race, class, gender, and political victims when Western capitalist society supposedly should offer enough pathologies without having to invent any? Many reasons come to mind.

One, 21st-century America is not quite the racial cauldron of the 1960s. It is not the 1930s Depression-era world of Steinbeck. And it is not the 1950s straitjacket of housewives all but jailed in tiny suburban boxes. In 2014, the enemy is too much food, not too little, as obesity, not malnutrition and a dearth of calories, is the far more deadly killer of the underclass. More women now graduate from college than do men. Looting an Apple Store or stealing Air Jordans is more common during rioting than carrying off sacks of rice and beans from Costco.

Having an Hispanic last name or being half-African-American is valuable enough in terms of college admission for a middle-class suburbanite to outweigh the dangers of institutionalized racism. Mayor de Blasio’s son, as an African-American male youth, is, in statistical terms, 30 times more likely to die at the hands of an African-American male youth than at the hands of a trigger-happy racist law-enforcement officer. In terms of homicide rates, whites usually murder other whites, as blacks murder other blacks. But in the latter case, 13 percent of the population accounts for over 50 percent of both U.S. murder victims and murder offenders.

A so-called Obamaphone has more computing and entertainment power than the billionaire’s laptop of 20 years ago. In such a diverse, wealthy, and leisured society, it is harder now to find Oliver Twists, Joads, and Nat Turners. With material and social advancement, however, comes not greater appreciation of positive progress, but even more anger at its perceived slow pace, in the march from the desire for equality of opportunity to the demand for government-sanctioned equality of outcome. To paraphrase Tocqueville, most would prefer to be equal and unfree than to be free and unequal. In such a landscape, the perception of relative inequality is a far greater catalyst for anger than the former reality of abject poverty. In other words, the victim status of the past is harder to obtain and thus requires far more creative and fictive methods. What does not exist with enough frequency can at least be invented.

Two, in the most reductionist sense, there is no downside to lying, if the lie is considered useful for a noble liberal cause. It was the Duke lacrosse players whose lives were ruined, not the professors who wrote public letters condemning them as likely racist rapists. We should expect that if there is something like a Duke baseball scandal at some future date, the same professors would write the same false indictments for the same reasons as they did in the lacrosse case — because there is no liability in weaving a particular sort of tale.

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