There's been a recent brouhaha connected with Twitter concerning a certain columnist whom I'll just call Kilo. I ignore Twitter as much as possible. I have no Twitter account, and not much in my life would change if Twitter ceased to exist tomorrow. In fact, I doubt it was a very well-conceived idea to begin with.
I'm taking note of this particular brouhaha because of what it reflects about a certain segment of the population that calls itself "conservative" but is anything but.
As near as I can figure out, a certain black, female actress was getting a lot of extremely nasty, racist comments on Twitter. She hadn't apparently realized just what Twitter was like and was shocked. Wisely or unwisely, she retweeted some of these comments to show that she wasn't making it up and, apparently, to show what darkness is in the hearts of mankind. After a while of this, ol' Kilo decided to insert himself into the fracas and posted a "tweet" that strongly implied that she was just a whiner playing the victim in order to draw attention away from the fact that she's a poor actress.
Mind you, the comments she was re-posting seem to have been undeniably genuine. It's not that the whole thing was some kind of hoax. (Though I have no doubt that some in the alternative reality of the alternative right are raising even that possibility, just to throw it into the mix. Or changing the subject and talking incessantly about other people who, they believe, have played such hoaxes.) In the world led by Kilo and his ilk, even pointing out, in shock, that people are making incredibly nasty, insulting comments about oneself is whining and "playing the victim." It is apparently a settled doctrine of this part of the right-o-sphere that no one is really a victim unless life and limb are literally, undeniably in danger. Hence, anyone who so much as draws attention to verbal attacks is whining and "playing" the victim. If the person is a member of a minority group, or a woman, or both, or a feminist, or all of the above, then all the more so: She obviously has some nefarious motive, deserving of mockery, for complaining.
Part of "Kilo's" comment was this: "Everyone gets hate mail."
I am not commenting on whether "Kilo" should have been banned by Twitter, now or in the past. I am not commenting on whether Twitter should ban other people as well, or who those other people or groups are, or what sort of double standards do or do not obtain on Twitter. All of that is beside my point.
I am commenting, rather, on the truly strange idea that we should criticize those who complain about vile insult rather than those who engage in vile insult. Where does this idea come from? And what does "Everyone gets hate mail" have to do with it? If everybody got robbed, would that make robbery no big deal? This is a kind of reverse bandwagon fallacy: If some bad thing happens to everybody, it ceases to be worth mentioning, and you are a whiner if you draw attention to it when it happens to you.
Any such downplaying of vile insult is exactly the opposite of conservative. The conservative believes that ideas have consequences. (Sound familiar?) The conservative is a realist about meanings and about language. He believes that words express ideas in people's minds. So words are important, not to be brushed off lightly. Every idle word that a man shall speak he shall give account of in the day of judgement. Words have consequences because ideas have consequences.
Postmodernists, in contrast, can never be conservative. And the idea that you can dismiss vile insult by saying, "Everybody gets hate mail," that you can and should criticize someone who draws attention to mere insults, mere words, is essentially nominalist and in an important sense postmodernist. The postmodernist holds that words are just marks on paper or sounds coming out of the mouth. They can be made to mean and to do anything at any time. (Inconsistently, many postmodernists of the leftist sort also believe that words are mighty talismans and tools of oppression, but being a postmodernist means not having to be consistent.) Words don't actually have meanings. Meanings aren't in the head. Words don't express ideas.
The alt-right's sneering at anyone who complains about "mere" verbal insult is part of the postmodernism of our age. It is an explicit attack upon standards of public discourse, which conservatives, of all people, ought to uphold. It is part and parcel of the idea that nothing matters. We are all such cynics, so above it all, that we don't care what people say. We don't care about lies, fraud, or insult. We might care if someone actually, physically attacks us or "our own folk." Then we'll fight back, and the prospect of a war of all against all is something we accept fatalistically as the way things are going. The idea of elevating standards, the idea that speech matters (yes, including speech on Twitter), is archaic, worthy of scoffing.
There is another way in which these ideas are postmodern: They embody the doctrine that everything is about power. Hence, we should never condemn those who, in our name, engage in vile insult, because that would be a concession to the "other side." It would be a sign of weakness. Whether preventing, say, vile comments in the comments threads on one's blog, and rejecting and condemning them, would be the right thing to do is not even on the radar. Absolute right and wrong are not the standard. Rather, "Being nice hasn't gotten us anywhere" is the cry. It's all about power and about us vs. them, and if getting out there and engaging in vile insult is somehow going to help us vs. them, then we shouldn't criticize those who are "doing our dirty work for us." This, again, is essentially a postmodern rejection of absolute value and virtue in favor of a Nietzschean pseudo-ethics.
I submit that all of this constitutes a destructive point of view. Every man of good will should reject it utterly. It is a sign that some on the self-styled right have adopted the destructiveness of the left.
For a long time, it was clear that the political conservatives in the West were the preservers. This became clear to me as long ago as graduate school, where I encountered postmodernism. I was shocked at the gleeful destructiveness and the explicit politicism of the postmodern left. That was when I declared war upon postmodernism in all its forms. Back then, there were still a few dinosaurs--the politically left who nonetheless rejected postmodernism and loved Western civilization. They have now largely died out. It is for the most part the political conservatives who have "fought the long defeat" through the ensuing decades, who have played Athenians to the left's Visigoths.
What we are seeing now is the rise of the self-styled right-wing Visigoth. He is a destroyer and a postmodern. Yet such a person still dares to claim the label of "conservatism" and complains, when banned because of at least an attempt to uphold, perhaps inconsistently, perhaps selectively, standards of decency, that it is his conservative politics (in some legitimate sense of "conservative politics") that have gotten him in trouble.
I call foul. We who still believe in truth, justice, beauty, absolute right and wrong, and who still believe that words matter, because ideas matter, we can claim to be conservative. If you don't, you can't. And if your response to a torrent of verbal abuse, even against someone whom you regard as an untalented hack, is to sneer, "Everyone gets hate mail," then you don't, and you can't.