by Mary Lucia Darst
We are the Borg. You will be assimilated: Resistance is futile.
~ Star Trek: New Generation & Voyager ~
The art of the dialectic is disappearing. Contrary to popular perception, Americans are not a competitive people. Perhaps it is our history of egalitarianism that places us at odds with our equally dear principle of meritocracy. We want to be “great again,” but only as a collective nation; the idea of breaking off into a group of great individuals is anathema. It’s really a culture of anti-individualism.
Since President Lyndon Baines Johnson launched his “War on Poverty,” the see-saw in American culture has swung from merit and the individual to mass promotion of “disadvantaged” strata. The fulcrum in this equation is the federal government, which, becoming bloated with the opening of many new departments and positions assigned to oversee poverty, now has a vested interest in up-defining and expanding it. Slowly, government and its definitions have seeped into every aspect of American society.
The overarching presence of regulation in the lives of the American people is a simple fact that we have dealt with since colonization. The pilgrims of the Mayflower practiced a form of religion that allowed the community, and therefore civil authority, to dictate every single, minute aspect of their lives, ranging from modes of dress and language to interpersonal relations. If anyone has read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, he or she will have a sense of exactly how intrusive government oversight could be in early America. Society was built upon the premise that no individual could self-regulate and everything had to be done by an external authority. Poor Hester Prynne, who is the protagonist of Hawthorne’s novel! Harassed by the period morality police – it would be wise for us to remember that it’s not been so long ago that we had morality enforcers loose on the streets of Boston, New Haven, and Providence – her life and future are ruined by the sanctimonious attitudes of a community threatened by individual expression. Thankfully though, following 1776, America embraced the principles of freedom and its associated individualism, at least for the time being.
Yet today we are willingly regressing to the puritanical societal model. In the name of peace and justice, euphemisms for anti-competitive mentality, we chase guest speakers off campus and assault hosting faculty, rather than allow their ideas to compete with ours. We agree to verbalized thought policing through the installation of “safe spaces” at the very centers where we first learned to reject provincialism, narrowness, and anti-competitive fear. (Perhaps given that the cities which now house our elite universities are also the ones which had morality enforcers at their founding, this is not so unnatural a situation; maybe they are only reverting to type.) Vituperative name calling is de rigeur on both sides of the political aisle, and in the modern, social media era, names replace embroidered letters as a form of branding.
Of course, not everything is completely the same. The puritanical city court and the ogling bystanders of The Scarlet Letter would have thoroughly disapproved of the pink-hatted protesters who assembled a year ago, January 2017, in Washington, DC. From the perspective that they were not chased down and arrested by a morality squad, I suppose that is progress. From the point of view that they have become the morality squad, we have probably taken a step back.
But, just like 1600s Massachusetts, anyone who dissents must endure being exposed to public view on the scaffold for three hours (read: news cycles) before being branded for life.
Pluck the mighty from their seat, but set no meek ones in their place;
Pillory Wisdom in your markets, pelt your offal at her face.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote these words in the late 1800s, deploring societal drift. One wonders what he would think now. Our new morality police, not exactly models of humility, certain as they are of the absolute righteousness of their cause, seek to pull down those they perceive as mighty, usually those of independent thought, and raise up themselves. Brooking no opposition, they dispense with discussion and dialogue, rejecting in a knee-jerk way the very notion that there could be any merit in the voice of dissent.
The new morality desires an uncompetitive world without difference or genuine diversity. One really cannot speculate as to why since many of its evangelists are young men and women well on the path of achieving success and recognition in their fields, indicating, thereby, that not only are they competitive by nature, but they have thrived in such an environment. Yet the new morality police’s affinity for stagnation, especially when forced by big government, is undeniable. As an example, Kelly Oakes, science editor for BuzzFeed, tweeted on December 14, 2017,
All I want for Christmas is full communism now.
When concerned and historically-informed netizens took her to task for her wish, Oakes proceeded to stand behind it. Both the tweet and subsequent grandstanding are indicative of the patronizing moral certitude exhibited by those of Oakes’ ilk, who, amoeba-like, wish to absorb and consume all others into their worldview. They are truly the Borg of Star Trek.
Just as the collectivist arch-villains from the Trek universe wished to form a more perfect species, the anti-competitive American morality police purport to desire only the advancement of humans through absolute, artificially-grafted equality. Intrusion by big government is an ideal means of obtaining that end. Societal branding in the vein of Hester Prynne is a reasonably good substitute until mankind can achieve the completely linked hive mind of the Borg to govern and police each other. Well might we poor redshirts run screaming from the army of drones descending upon us.
Mary Lucia Darst is an intern at the Austrian Economics Center. She graduated from Columbia University with an MA in History and Literature. In addition to working as a writer and researcher, she is an active classical musician.