I have just spent the best part of three weeks travelling around the United States, filming episodes for TRIGGERnometry and speaking with people from different sides of the political spectrum.
There were many lunches, breakfasts, dinners and walks with people who care where our culture and politics are going. We met conservative friends in DC and Miami and old school liberal friends in NY and LA. And the most striking thing to me is just how much these two groups actually agree on.
Both agree that a section of the Left is batshit crazy. Both agree that our institutions like the media, academia, publishing, entertainment, corporate HR, education, law enforcement and judiciary are now tools in the hands of those who wish to impose this craziness on the rest of us.
When a conservative friend chewed my ear off telling me about the "woke" education system there was always the thought at the back of my mind that, perhaps, he has spent too much time on Twitter. But it was harder to maintain this defence mechanism when an apolitical "default liberal" friend told me about her daughter coming home from school unsure of her gender thanks to what she was taught in class.
Both conservatives and old school liberals agree that free speech is essential and must be preserved. Some believe this tactically, in the sense that they see free speech as necessary to ensuring that their point of view is heard, while others do so out of the belief that free speech is to be defended as a matter of principle. These differences are not insignificant and may become important with time, but for now, at least, both agree that a growing intolerance of speech is bad.
Furthermore, and quite amazingly, both see the problem posed by the post-religious age as central to where we go from here. Their prescriptions are, naturally, very different.
For conservatives the answer is clear: we are where we are because the declining religiousity of American society is causing a swathe of societal problems with human beings unmoored from their supreme purpose wandering aimlessly through a fallen world of meaningless hook up culture, misery and social dysfunction. "If more people lived by the moral codes religion once imposed on society, we'd all be a lot better off" is their message.
For liberals, the situation is less clear cut. On the one hand, they have largely stopped pretending a society of atomised individuals without a unifying moral code can function well. Having placed the sovereign individual on the pedestal from which God has been removed, liberals are increasingly not liking what this liberated sovereign individual ends up actually doing. When they fought for freedom and human rights they didn’t mean that confused children must be the subject of macabre medical experiments or that addicts need encouragement to “safely” smoke Fentanyl in public spaces. Deep down, many are starting to recognise that while New Atheism may very well produce a good society in theory, not everyone is Richard Dawkins and in the absence of a shared moral code human nature increasingly makes itself known.
It seems to me that at the present time such old school liberals are unsure what can be done about this. They are struggling to reconcile their ingrained desire to mock religion (and, therefore, stuffy religious people) as the ultimate demonstration of a liberal society with a craving for something they can believe in that isn't a punchline.
Both are horrified by the way in which a small number of ideological zealots have been allowed to rebrand what both liberals and conservatives believe to be medical malpractice against children as "trans care for minors". Most conservatives are openly outraged about it. The liberals whisper it quietly.
True, liberals are becoming emboldened in talking about this issue publicly but they are also disconcerted by the increasingly muscular tone of their conservative fellow travelers on the Red Pill Express. This is why the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh has become such a prominent cultural figure: to conservatives he is wielding the Sword of Truth in the fight against gender ideology, while to liberals he is exactly how they don't want to sound because while facts may not care about your feelings, people do. It’s not that liberals don’t share the conservative indignation, they just don't believe expressing it as harshly as possible is the way to win the argument.
I myself increasingly feel this tension.
Liberals beckon me to their cause of diplomacy and persuasion. "You can't win people over by alienating them. Let's speak the truth but let's make it possible for people to hear it".
Conservatives challenge me to join them in fighting the good fight. "We are where we are because not enough people said something. We have to mobilise people and give them the confidence to speak without fear".
Arguably both are valid perspectives in the current era.
If you want to achieve political objectives right here right now, get your base out to elect someone who is going to take a sledgehammer to woke institutions.
If you want to change the culture, you have to Make Sanity Cool Again. And that won't happen through righteous indignation: “the woke are the ones losing their shit, let us be the voice of reason”.
Both of these approaches are being tested in real time as the flames of the culture war come into contact with normal people who are trying to live their lives without having to pre-read their children's school books or being forced to sit through humiliating corporate diversity trainings.
These two distinct groups may continue to work together while eyeing each other with suspicion but there also seems to be the space for political figures to emerge who can speak to both of these groups at once. They don't currently exist because in the social media age pandering to the base is the default setting for politics.
And breaking this pattern will be no easy task for obvious reasons: the fissure between conservatives and old school liberals runs through the most contentious issues in American politics: guns, abortion and Trump.
As such, emergent moderate politicians will likely face the wrath of the puritanical elements of both wings of this anti-woke coalition and may well find themselves promptly sidelined. But we should, nonetheless, allow ourselves to hope that someone can persuade these groups to actually work together by pulling in their fringes, shouldn’t we?
It may seem unrealistic at present but this is no abstract battle - the West needs to develop a cultural vaccine against the woke mind virus as quickly as possible and start focussing on things that matter. As I said to Bill Maher on his Real Time show last Friday, people in other places aren't teaching their children to hate their own countries.
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Man! You write so well. Superb article.
Any realistic hope of uniting the shouty anti-woke right with traditional liberals probably depends on people with clear views but moderate modes of expression who are respected by both groups. People like you Konstantin. Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting that you stand for elected office.....yet.
I'm not sure that I agree with your assessment about moderate politicians. True, it may alienate the right and left fringes, but they're just that: fringes. If you sit down with a moderate conservative right now it should become pretty clear that they probably don't want to vote for Trump, or many of the other politicians who are similarly grotesque. However, they WILL pull the lever for Trump again if it's between him and someone who wants to defund the police and "disrupt" the gender binary and the nuclear family.
I think that if there was simply a less ideological politician, even one who labels himself a Democrat, who said very clearly in the face of this craziness, "no, we're not going to do that", this person could have a great deal of support from the common person. I think the more difficult thing to get past is the party apparatus itself which actively tries to reduce the signal for certain candidates and amplify the signal for others.