Our Noisy and Noisome Age

In the last few days, I have felt as if a cascade of imbecility and malice has come crashing down upon our heads. One hardly knows where to begin. Perhaps it does not matter.

A man pretending to be a woman pretends to break the women’s world record in weightlifting, and people report on it with a straight face. Megan Rapinoe, a female soccer player innocent of the most elementary laws of economics and commutative justice, demands equal pay with male soccer players, though the only reason why she is a female soccer player at all is that males—even high school boys—are prohibited from playing against her. But that word “equal” is a talisman, rendering thought impossible and unnecessary.

The music department at Oxford, considering that sheet music is too “colonialist” and “white,” will be giving it less play; so also Mozart and Bach and such. A deranged thug murders Asian prostitutes in a brothel, and the public relations people for my favorite baseball team, the Saint Louis Cardinals, see fit to post on the team’s website that “hate has no place here,” bringing to their fans a sigh of relief, as at least this year there will be no more shortstops sent to Leavenworth. Now that they have hate licked, perhaps they will work on lust, greed, vanity, falsehood, blasphemy, ingratitude, wrath, and envy. It won’t be as much fun, though, as confessing how sorry you are for other people’s sins.

Poor Jack Phillips, the baker who just wants to decline, politely, to use his talents to celebrate what everybody two cultural minutes ago believed to be immoral or an absurdity, has been sued again; and I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of man-hours, and billions of dollars public and private, are burned up in a bonfire of such malice and meddlesomeness every year. A woman says she will not be teaching Beowulf to her pupils, because she is sick of the works of dead white men. She retains her job—a job she does not want to perform. A Dutch translator of Dante’s Inferno leaves out of her canto 28 the substantial passage that condemns Mohammed as a schismatic; and it is Muslims, not Christians, who call her out for being ridiculous.

As if atonal music were not bad enough, except as background for horror movies, what is called “asemic poetry” is now a thing, that is, poetry whose words do not mean anything. I guess the cat is out of the postmodern bag. The young lady who recited her poem at the inauguration of Mr. Biden has not taken leave of all semantic meaning, though it is hard to prefer the clumsy and trite to the insensible. The problem is not so much her bad work, as the collapse of taste and judgment in people who ought to be responsible, who put her on stage in the first place.

And recently, rioters vandalized the federal courthouse in Portland, because a policeman was being tried for the murder of a black man two years ago, two thousand miles away in Minneapolis. Oregonians had gone along with the movement to defund police departments, apparently believing that you could wave a magic wand, say, “Love makes the world go round,” and all things should be well. Fifty-two people so far this year have been murdered in Portland; last year the number was one. But it has been a long time since we have been a nation of laws, and not the vociferous expression of feelings; those wandering things that people lie about more often than about anything else.

Boise State University reneged on a deal with a coffee company, because the company last year had expressed some modest support for policemen; that gave the student council the vapors, and the case is now in the courts, the company having sued the college for several million dollars. Again, I am struck by the immense waste of it all, the sheer drag of stupidity and “sensitivity,” so that ordinary things do not get done, and by the sheer noise of feelings, so that obvious things are not said.

Dr. Seuss has met the guillotine, not for his neck, but for a hand or two, and apparently intelligent people do not say, “You people are idiots,” or, “Don’t you have anything important to occupy your time?” We have broken homes everywhere, and many millions of children growing up without fathers; we have a working-class sinking into an underclass; the pandemic has ruined small businesses everywhere; and instead of rethinking a single one of our antisocial bargains with lust, we argue about the amours of a cartoon skunk.

When everyone is shouting, wisdom shuts its mouth, or joins in the folly. We Americans need to have slow, searching, unsentimental discussions about a higher education whose value in intellectual attainment has fallen as its costs would make racketeers blush; and we need also to examine the legal “protection”—I use the word as Elliot Ness might have used it—that supports the infamous thing. 

We need to have slow, searching, unsentimental discussions about the reality of the sexes, whose behavior is remarkably consistent from culture to culture, climate to climate, and age to age, and how best to work with that reality, so that we will have strong families, and so that boys and girls will have more confidence as they make their way to sexual maturity. 

We need to have slow, searching, unsentimental discussions about where we are going to get our power from, and how much we will need; how we may repair our rotting bridges, railways, and highways; how to render innocuous the dangerous concentrations of wealth and informational power among the giants of technology and social media; how to begin to pay down our immense debt; how to reform welfare to encourage marriage and responsibility; how to rebuild an American culture that seems to have crumbled away, with no songs, no stories, and no common faith to unite us.

We will not have these discussions. Feelings, noise—feelings and noise we have always had with us. Now we have little else.

 

About Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine and a contributing editor for Chronicles. He is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan Books, 2016); Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017); Nostalgia (Regnery, 2018); and Sex and the Unreal City (Ignatius, 2020).

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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