After coming across the subject five or six times, I finally followed a link on Instapundit to Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s attempt at a left-wing explanation and, to some degree, rationalization of Rolling Stone’s fake reporting on rape at the University of Virginia. The article reminded me of the much-ballyhooed gobbledegook that good liberal students used to churn out when I was in college.
The Bruenig passage on which most commentators have focused consists of a pair of paragraphs, the first of which explains the subtle thought of liberals in understanding oppression versus the second of which, asserting the brutish right-wing “obsession” with individual, factual cases and “specific details.” Admittedly, it’s a telling turnabout. The Left, in its superior thought, understands the real Truth, even if it can’t be articulated in actual facts; the Right, being less capable of the higher thought that transcends facts, extrapolates meaning from mere happenstance.
The more interesting passage, though, is the one that fully articulates Bruenig’s thesis:
Pinning an indictment of a system on the story of an individual is essentially a rightwing tactic with a dodgy success rate; it’s a way of using an individual as a metonym for systematic analysis that both overplays the role of individual heroism and effort and underplays the complicated nature of oppression as a feature of institutions, policies, traditions, and persons.
Note that this is presented as if it’s one of those examples of higher thoughts that needn’t be attached to “specific details.” The word for that (even if only in right-wing circles) is “unsubstantiated.” Upon a little bit of thought, in fact, it’s utter nonsense. From Saul Alinsky’s rule to “personalize” issues to the labor-friendly “Ballad of Joe Hill” to the statement that a single death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic, generally attributed to Joseph Stalin, the Left has long consolidated movements into individual stories.
Bruenig is accurately describing a leftist tactic, but because the context puts it in a bad light, it must temporarily be characterized as a right-wing tactic. It’s not unlike analysis of religious freedom laws that depends on whether they advance conservative or progressive causes at a particular moment.
The Bruenig essay brings to mind a law review article by now-Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, in which he expounded on the constitutionality of using government schools to teach that God does not exist. (See also here, here, and here.) In my brutish, fact-driven conservatism these two examples seem like evidence of the Left’s strategy to destroy the capacity of Americans to engage in reason, as opposed to logical gymnastics to support conclusions that are actually driven by politics and emotion. The gobbledegook of the classroom has made its way into the grown-up world.
That may help to explain why government and the news media seem to operate as if the world has the padded safety of the campus, permitting concentration on abstract “deeper truths” disconnected from reality.