»  Taki's Magazine

February 2nd, 2011

  The Futility of Dissidence


A few weeks ago in this space I did a Q&A with Jared Taylor of the race-realist American Renaissance website and monthly newsletter. At the time, Jared was preparing for the annual conference of his organization, which was to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina this coming weekend, February 4-6. The previous year's event had been derailed by leftist thugs phoning in death threats to employees of the conference hotel. Jared seemed confident, however, that he had the situation covered this time.

Ha! Charlotte City Council member (and Mayor pro tem) Patrick Cannon, who is black, sent a few emails to city hotels, and now Jared's conference is homeless. Cannon's behavior was disgraceful — a politician telling hotels which private groups they may and may not do business with — and quite possibly illegal, but plainly he doesn't care. He knows he will not be called out on his actions by anyone who can cause him political harm, certainly not by his constituents (he is an at-large City Council member).

And this, just after I got through congratulating Jared (humorously) on having garnered publicity for his conference from the Tucson shooting. The story going around — reported on, for example, Fox News — was that Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, had some connection with American Renaissance. The story was completely false. Jared Taylor himself attributed its origin to some dimwitted Homeland Security clerk getting his Jareds confused: "Jared isn't that common a name; it's just the sort of coincidence computer algorithms look for …"

Discussing the cancellation of the conference with a mutual friend, the friend sighed: "Jared is hopelessly 'white.'"

We know what he means, of course. Jared's working assumptions are that issues of race and citizenship — "the National Question" — can be discussed calmly, by rooms full of well-dressed people with good manners, sharing understandings reached by dispassionate scrutiny of evidence and open debate. Arrangements for filling those rooms and feeding those people can be made by private contractual agreements with commercial interests, free of political interference, protected by the authorities from violent harassment.

There is a sense in which those assumptions are indeed "white," which is to say, of European provenance. It is of course true that non-Europeans can conduct themselves like that: conferences of the NAACP or La Raza or the Asian American Journalists Association probably go pretty much along those lines. It is likewise true that Europeans frequently do not manage things in such a bourgeois fashion: the mostly-white leftists who broke up Jared's conference last year would be a case in point, and European history provides many others.

The genteel Taylorish way of doing things is in fact un-human. It goes against the grain of our natural propensities. Very few races or nations can keep it up for long. Most human actions are driven by emotion; most human beliefs are based on magic, superstition, wishful thinking, social striving, and personal feelings. It may be that you do A or believe B because you have been persuaded in reasoned discussion that A is a proper course of action and B most likely true. Much, much more often A is prompted by your deep brain stem without any conscious thought being involved, while B appeals because X, whom you love, believes B, or because Y, whom you hate, believes not-B.

Where the Taylor mode persists for long, though, it is because Europeans got the ball rolling, establishing the necessary rules and restraints. Science, for example, as a social phenomenon, is Taylorian, its 17th-century origins — the Royal Society and the Académie des Sciences — of perfectly European provenance. (Again, be it noted, it took Europeans 2,000 years to get there. Nobody else ever got there under their own steam, though, or looked likely to.)

The more "normal," universally human way of doing things was on display in the events surrounding this year's and last year's American Renaissance conferences. Powerful tribal elders threaten to withhold goods they control, or fierce young braves enforce tribal taboos while the elders look on with indulgent approval. To imagine that reason and law could stand against such primal forces was naive, as well as quaintly "white."

Jared excites strong emotions — an odd thing, as he is a polite and good-natured man whose opinions are merely unpopular, not outrageous. Any time I mention him I get emails, often from mainstream conservative types, taking him to task for something or other at considerable length. Often these emails have some point to them; but it's always a picayune point, and I find myself wondering why it generated sufficient mental energy in my emailer to produce a thousand words of close argumentation.

The reason for all the passion is of course that Jared's opinions violate tribal taboos. I'm sure there never was a human society without taboos, so there is nothing to wonder at there. Since it is not easy to tell where respect for taboos ends and everyday good manners begin, it is always possible to argue that a violator of taboos is being ill-mannered. (Though knowing Jared, I am sure this would wound him far more deeply than any accusation of "racism".)

Jared is in fact a type I have been long familiar with. He is a dissident.

I've spent considerable time among dissidents, either imaginatively or actually. In the 1970s I was a keen reader of dissident Soviet literature: Amalrik, Dyadkin, Zinoviev, Bukovsky, and of course Solzhenitsyn. In the 1980s I got to know some Chinese dissidents in person.

The common characteristic of dissidents is an over-developed respect for the Taylorian virtues, as listed above. Some, to be sure, have a particular ideological or religious ax to grind, but most are just by personality members of the Awkward Squad, unwilling to go along with the prevailing structure of taboos. Among the Soviet dissidents, Vladimir Bukovsky is a particularly pure specimen. He had no program or agenda; he was just stubbornly unwilling to say that two plus two equals five.

The career of a dissident is beset by two tragedies, a lesser one and a greater one.

The lesser one is that he will be despised, or at best disliked, by the great mass of his fellow countrymen. It is always tempting to think that taboos are imposed from above, by trickery or force, on people who would shrug them off if they could. There is an element of that, especially in unfree societies, but for the most part a population is self-policing in the matter of taboos. People like having taboos. By collapsing complex issues into simple moral formulas, they prevent us having to think, encouraging us to feel instead. This we like: thought is much harder work than feeling.

The greater tragedy is that dissidence is futile. It rarely accomplishes anything. The dissident's dream is that one day the great mass of people will come to see things his way. That practically never happens. The U.S.S.R. is gone; but there is no respect in which its replacement is Amalrikian or Bukovskian. This applies even in the case of a dissident of world-historical stature like Solzhenitsyn. Would things in Russia would be any different today if Solzhenitsyn had fallen to a sniper's bullet in WW2? I can't see it.

The U.S.S.R. was brought down by impersonal forces, historical and economic, not by dissidents. Stalin murdered dissidents out of hand. His successors sent them to remote camps; then, from the early 1970s on, just expelled them. China has followed the same path with its dissidents:

There is something inescapably melancholy about them, about their condition … Nobody is much interested in them, or in what they have to say. They eke out a thin existence on the fringes of American life, writing occasional pieces for western newspapers, addressing ill-attended meetings in draughty provincial college auditoriums, doing some ill-paid work for one of the dissident organizations, or — in one case I know of — selling insurance in Chinatown. The words "shabby" and "émigré" go irresistibly together. It would almost have been kinder for the communists to shoot them, if kindness were a thing communists are into.

We don't shoot our dissidents, nor even exile them or send them to camps. In other respects their careers parallel those of their spiritual kin living under sterner regimes: ignored by power-seekers, denounced by those who toady to power, swatted down contemptuously by power-holders, disliked by the taboo-upholding generality, doomed to failure and oblivion unless, by very occasional blind luck, History in its onward march finds itself in step with them.

I still like and admire dissidents. I honor their cussedness, integrity, and courage. I can never stir myself to join them, though. Cowardice? By all means think so. I prefer to see it in my own mind as "insufficiently masochist."