Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Review: 'The New Thought Police' by Tammy Bruce (2002)

It's just another meandering, hyper-conservative screed against the so-called "liberal agenda" ... written by a gun-toting lesbian who was once the head of one of the largest chapters of the largest feminist organization in the U.S.? Hmm ... maybe we ought to pay attention to this one

By: Jimbo X

Perhaps the most remarkable cultural upheaval I've witnessed in my lifetime has been the slow transvaluation of the American free speech dilemma. Up until very, very recently, the First Amendment discussion in the United States has almost exclusively revolved around instances of liberal progressives fighting against the nation's super-traditional arch-conservative tastemakers. We can cite the landmark Supreme Court rulings by heart now: Tinker v. Des Moines, New York Times Co. v. United States, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, Texas v. Johnson - all narratives in which "the man" and his outmoded, prejudicial ways were steamrolled by the wave of the future, the more forward thinking, secular-progressive of the species. Granted, the "good guys" don't always win - see Miller v. California - and periodically, there have been a few First Amendment challenges from those to the right of Attila the Hun - see Brandenburg v. Ohio - but by and large, the greater cultural narrative shines through the high court dockets like a highlighted object in The Sims. Slowly, but surely, the collective psyche has drifted away from the old-school, patriotic, Protestant-work ethic mentality and embraced its ideological opposite - that being, the new-school, anti-theist, pro-multiculturalism Tao. 

Now, that isn't to say that this takeover is inherently a bad thing. Indeed, having to live in a theocratic, super-prudish society that equates any dissatisfaction with governmental actions with communist sentiment sucks just as bad as living in one where a bunch of hyper-offended, leftist nut-bags accuse everything and everyone of being sexist and racist. The frank reality, however is that - not unlike the nerds who killed off all the jocks in Massacre at Central High and slowly found themselves establishing their own hierarchical constructs of oppression - really, all we are seeing is the exchanging of the whips so the other side can take turns flogging the despised political other. Instead of a bunch of empowered, bigoted dudes who watch John Wayne movies persecuting diempowered hippies who smoke dope and give each other tie-dyed hand jobs at Grateful Dead concerts, for the forseeable future, it's going to be empowered transgender flag-burners and virulently anti-racist Yale Law School grads who think anyone who uses the term "illegal immigrant" should be sentenced to death beating the living - and legal - shit out of all the disempowered people who think homosexuality is a sin and that they ought to be able to pray in schools and hold up signs at Tea Parties stating that, yes, they do indeed dislike them some Muslim peoples

As much as some want to ignore it, today, the freedom fighters on the front line for the First Amendment aren't your liberal super-heroes like Lenny Bruce or George Carlin or Eugene Debs. Instead, the people really making a stand for free expression - and telling the government to fuck off for trying to tell us what to think and feel - are those guys who hold up signs saying "God Hates Fags" at dead soldiers' funerals or protest abortion clinics by holding up giant posters of disemboweled fetuses (which, from my observations, always kind of look like either gummy bears or half-eaten spaghetti dinners.)

Of course, the big problem with the free expression debate in modern day America is that - while there is at least the illusion that there are barriers in place to prevent the feds from silencing you - there is absolutely no legal safeguard in place to prevent the masses from ripping those with unpopular opinions to shreds. Since they can't technically imprison you for going against the herd consensus, the great contemporary leftist brain trust has instead developed a neo-McCarthyist approach that seeks to not only exile those with antithetical opinions from participating in the public sphere, but to prevent them from earning a paycheck to support themselves and their families. As influential as the racist, xenophobic, hive-minded John Birch Society types of the 1950s may have been, they would have been in awe of just how deeply their 2010s counter-parts in the liberal think-o-sphere have embedded themselves in the national conscience. Even if you strongly disagree with the pillars of modern liberalism - diversity is great and has absolutely no scientifically-verified negative repercussions whatsoever, America's borders should be open because it adds to the prosperity and richness of our culture, embracing LGBT identitarians and reshaping national policies to give them unparalleled civil protections from criticism is absolutely necessary, etc. - odds are, you are too afraid to ever admit it in public or on social media. While it is perfectly fine and dandy for your colleagues to spout off about how great gay marriage and transgender bathrooms and affirmative action is, you know that if you ever said something that criticized or questioned their belief systems, it would fuck you over hard. Your coworkers and peers would brand you as a racist or a sexist or a homophobe - the 21st century scarlet letter - and you might even lose your job. Shit, I've talked to more than one person who supports Donald Trump 100 percent, but they won't tell anybody because they are afraid that will automatically get them labeled as prejudiced. Try as the may, the commie-hunting queer-haters of the Eisenhower never had as tight a stranglehold on the American consciousness as today's reactionary leftists, whose dogma is probably about four or five years from becoming the cultural mainstream.  

To the uninitiated, this whole "social justice warrior" stuff is a relatively recent phenomenon. Of course, the real roots of SJW-dom stretch back to at least the mid-1970s, with the proliferation of this little thing called "political correctness" (fun fact: the modern use of the term was coined by democratic socialists as a derogatory way to describe the official Stalin-era communist party line, if you ever wondered.) Although it lay dormant for most of the later half of the decade, one could feel the movement slowly sinking its way into the bedrock of the social conscience, even during that uber-Patriotic, kitsch-as-kitsch can epoch in American history called "The Post 9/11, Pre-Obama World." 

What makes The New Thought Police such an interesting little tome - besides its author's unique blend of conservative idealism and quasi-progressive identity politicking - is that it was released right in the middle of the modern day SJW movement. Published  in 2002, the book came out in that weird interphase where everyone knew what affirmative action was but things like "intersectionality" and "cisgenderism" were still a good decade away from becoming conceptualizations bolted into our youth's minds like rainbow-hued rivets. As such, the gloriously anti-P.C. screed at times almost feels like an ominous warning from way back when that we should have listened to but didn't because we were all too busy with American Idol and the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie. 

Following a foreword from Dr. Laura (boy, THAT doesn't make the tome feel archaic or nothing), Tammy Bruce introduces herself as "an openly gay, pro-choice, gun-owning, pro-death penalty, liberal, voted for Reagan feminist," which is probably the first time any of us have heard at least four or five of those identity qualifiers uttered in the same sentence. Oh, and did you know that Ms. Bruce - now a Washington Times columnist and periodic Fox News talking head - served as the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women from 1990 to 1996? Well, she did. 

Tammy makes her hypothesis pretty clear early on in the book, alleging the contemporary left is guilty of using "perpetual victimization" narratives and "P.C. codes" to maintain political and cultural power. She then chides the lefties for being perpetually offended about EVERYTHING, stating "opinions, in and of themselves are not harmful, regardless of the subject or conclusion." 

From there, she wastes no time at all before harping on organizations that claim to "represent aggrieved minorities"  like NOW, GLAAD and the NAACP, stating that their "protection" of particular interest groups is really just a ploy to take down any contrarians who disagree with their authority. This in turn creates a dreadful "spiral of silence" that fool special interest groups into believing they have more social clout than they really do - the trick, Bruce postulates, is for advocacy organizations to make it look like they are making some progress with their agendas, but never enough, naturally, to make them obsolete as activist organizations.

As a result, Bruce suggests that many Americans now find themselves gripped in the paralyzing fear of offending "protected groups" - consciously or unconsciously. Liberals today, she continues, have completely abandoned the Lockean classical liberalism for a dogma utterly obsessed with identity politics, sustaining "victim" status and fostering an "us vs. them mentality." Instead of rallying behind "equality of opportunity," they now campaign for "equality of outcome," and rather than promote personal rights, they are now infatuated with the sanctity of group rights

She takes a brief detour to dissect some of the more popular 20th century liberal-progressive icons. She refers to Betty Friedan as a communist and trudges up the trifecta of "anti-capitalist" MLK advisers (Hunter Pitts O'Dell, Stanley Levison and Bayard Rustin, for those of you out of the loop.) She brings up the fact that Rosa Parks was already an NAACP officer before her famous protest, and how the organization didn't rush o the aid of two African-American women - Claudette Calvin and Mary Louise Smith - who made earlier stands against Montgomery's bus policies. Focusing the discussion on slightly more modern figures, she chides the secular progressives for tearing apart Cruz Bustamenta for accidentally saying "nigger" at a Coalition of Black Trade Unionists speech and John Rocker for his string of somewhat insensitive comments to Sports Illustrated in 1999. "It's not really the use of a term, it's what you're thinking when you use it," Bruce says of the omni-offended - and bordering on impossibly metaphysical - liberal M.O.

In a chapter on the ills of groupthink, Bruce explores the discrepancies in how the media covered the murders of Matthew Shepherd and Daphne Sulk, reminds us that just 17 hate crime homicides were recorded in 1999, that the cable news complex royally fucked up in their coverage of the Columbine Massacre and gives us a quick primer on the work of Irving Janis and a few case examples from a peer-reviewed periodical called the Cultic Studies Journal (which I really need to subscribe to, it seems.)

This segues nicely into a lengthy passage on homosexual lobbyist hypocrisy, which is prefaced with a rather spiffy quote from Animal Farm - "once in power, the oppressed will become the oppressor." Our author describes in great detail how GLAAD has taken Lord Acton's maxim about "absolute power corrupting absolutely" to heart, eschewing the character-building exercises of yore for nonstop character assassination attempts today. She discusses the organization's role in the harassment of Dr. Laura - including how she ironically received death threats for "not being tolerant enough" - and wonders why they don't go after non-Christian-conservative homophobes like Eminem. "The left doesn't want you tolerating anything they won't tolerate," Bruce sums it up. 

If you think that's a knee-slapper, just wait until you get to the chapter titled "Misery Merchants," which gives the NAACP the old what-fer. Bruce recounts the Tawana Brawley debacle from 1987 and that one time Alton Maddox accused Robert Adams of masturbating to photographs from the (totally fabricated) crime scene. She accuses black interests organizations of promoting what she deems "a victim industry" which propagates racial division and hopelessness with the endgame of "holding onto the money, power and prestige that comes from leading the supposedly downtrodden." She then elaborates on Dick Armey's assertion that the organization practiced "racial McCarthyism," drones on for a bit about Jesse Jackson's union collections and proclaims that by making people uncomfortable discussing race and constantly ripping open the wounds of the sins of the past, we are guaranteed to never get past the painful legacies of historical racism. She cites a few studies with some surprising findings (for example, she mentions one RAND report that determined 51 percent of those arrested in the 1992 L.A. riots weren't black, but Hispanic, and a 1997 JCPES national survey that indicates two-thirds of blacks in America have "moderate to conservative" political leanings) and brings up the words of Walter E. Williams, who once declared that African-Americans' political leanings were more alike Jerry Falwell than Al Sharpton and that Jesse Jackson's platform more closely resonated with old white hippies than poor, inner-city blacks. Then there's some stuff about "aversive racism" and the 1990 eight circuit case U.S. v. Weaver and the holding "facts are not to be ignored simply because they are unpleasant," but eh, it didn't make that much of an impression on me, frankly.

As you would expect from the former head of the largest NOW chapter in the nation, Bruce clearly holds some grudges against the late second wave/early third wave feminist ideologues. After chiding the Steinem types for their less-than-secretive ties to socialist organizations, Bruce goes on a long tirade about how so many feminist groups gave confirmed spouse abuser and unconvicted double murderer O.J. Simpson a free pass because he was black and raises some questions about why exactly federal "tobacco control" grants were given to NOW during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Go ahead, make your own cigar-in-the-vadge joke now, you low-fruit-grabbing motherfuckers. From there, Bruce tackles the touchy topic of multiculturalism, describing it as a code word for "moral relativism" and an ideological structure that encourages Balkanization and shields minorities from accepting self-responsibility for their own actions. Rather than create a more "inclusive society," she makes a very solid argument that multiculturalism actually has the OPPOSITE affect, instead rewarding ethnic enclaves for self-segregating and promoting the abstract conceptualization of a collective culture over their own individual values and aspirations (and by golly, wouldn't you know it, independent research from the guy who wrote Bowling Alone verifies pretty much every negative thing about "mandated diversity" Bruce posits here.) Don't ask me how, but this section somehow ends with some commentary on the Kennewick Man and why it's bullshit that "ebonics" is categorized as an official ESL subject in certain school districts out on the Left Coast. 

The sections on the media and academia are pretty much what you would expect - lots of pissing and moaning about Dan Rather sticking up for Gary Condit during his 2001 missing-intern scandal and that one time a bunch of black kids stole 14,000 copies of The Daily Pennsylvanian because they didn't like what one of the articles had to say. There's also a great section where Bruce talks about just how much power advocacy groups have over the media, and how in many situations, special interest organizations pretty much put words in the mouths of newspapers and news sites by feeding them pre-packaged "stories" expressing some sort of manufactured outrage or grievance. As someone who has worked in media\public relations his entire career, I can firmly attest to just how common an occurrence this is - to the point I have seen entire press releases published as factual news stories with a reporter's byline on it, even though every word was penned by someone on the activist organization's payroll. 

Whether in the classroom or in the entertainment biz, Bruce says the liberal war machine modus operandi is the same - silence differing opinions, squelch public debate and punish all those who foster dissent against the supreme, totalitarian ideology. After talking about something called "Cuntfest" (fun for the whole family, I presume!), she describes how the leftist machinery pushes a peculiar racial narrative to children as young as elementary schoolers. "It can never be too early to teach white kids the importance of self-censorship when it comes to issues of race, and to infuse black and Hispanic kids with a victim mentality that they may never be able to shake," she writes. 

So far, so good, right? Well, at the very tail end of the book, Bruce just has to up and derail the entire thesis by concluding her tome with a chapter about the necessity for activism. Yes, after spending 200-plus pages describing how collective identitarianism is destroying civility, she opts to wrap up The New Thought Police with a section describing the "success" of her protests against book stores selling copies of American Psycho (uh, what was she saying about freedom of expression earlier?) and how great it felt to that one time she got Dan Ohmeyer's interview with O.J cancelled. As insightful and entertaining as the book is, alike a lightning fast stallion that trips up 200 feet from the finish line, you can't help but be disappointed by Bruce's premise-defeating finale, I am afraid. The book concludes proper following a suggested reading list that includes the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Hannah Arendt and a preview for her 2003 treatise The Death of Right And Wrong - which, yeah, appears to be pretty much the exact same material as this book, only slightly reworded so as to contractually fulfill the author's three-book deal or whatever sort of arrangement she had back then. 

So, 14 years since The New Thought Police was released, what sort of intrinsic value does it retain? Well, a lot of the material is supremely outdated, but it is nonetheless pretty hard to not comb through it and feel a sense of spooky prescience. Back in the heyday of Pepsi Blue and Eight Legged Freaks, who'd ever thunk that Bruce's then-hilarious-paranoid-sounding musings would eventually come to represent our shared societal norms? Well, this gun-toting, Reagan-voting lesbian feminist was way ahead of the curve, and in much the same way you can't help but be awestruck by the uncanny soothsaying of something like Camp of the Saints, this vaticination of this one will really give you the heebie-jeebies.

Now, is Bruce's book a revelatory, ideological masterwork on par with, say, Ideas Have Consequences or The Closing of the American Mind? Well, no, but unlike a lot of books with political agendas from the early 2000s, it still seems fairly relevant and contemporary. It may not be something that will change your life or your way of thinking - indeed, it pretty much espouses stuff we've heard a million billion times before, albeit a good decade and a half before it became the beckoning call of the reactionary post-W right - but if you can pick up a copy at a used bookstore at a reasonable price, it's probably worth the investment. 

Considering how astoundingly well Bruce predicted the modern Generation Y diversity-at-all-costs mentality at least 10 years out, I suppose just one question remains - will The New Thought Police seem so remarkably oracular another 15 years from now, too?

Call it progress (or regression, if you are on the other side of the aisle), but something tells me Tammy's tome is going to sound stunningly sibylline for a LONG time to come, unfortunately. 

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