My Discovery of America (Progressive America, That Is)

This is a true story, but it could have been written by Franz Kafka.  It is 1976.  I am a young scientist who has just immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union.  One of my colleagues, Professor K., who knows me through my publications, invites me to his office at UC Berkeley.  The weather is lovely, and we decide to continue our conversation at Sproul Plaza.

K. is a worldly, cultured man.  He asks me about life in my old country, and I am eager to oblige.  I try to describe everyday life in the police state, where Big Brother decides what books people are allowed to read, where the Beatles' songs are smuggled in, where atheist indoctrination is a required part of the school curriculum, where teaching the Hebrew language is banned, where gay sex is a crime, and where poets and writers are jailed for writing unsanctioned books.  First, K. nods sympathetically, but then I notice that his reaction becomes odd.  He looks around nervously, as if he is worried that someone could overhear us.  He definitely wants to change the subject.  I have an eerie feeling akin to that of the proverbial child who dared to say that the emperor was naked, causing the crowd to move away from the child in fear.

It took me a long time to realize that his reaction was rather typical.  If you want to socialize with progressive and sophisticated Americans, you have to abide by certain rules.  You may hold unconventional views on many issues, but certain ones are taboo.  Criticizing socialism is one of them, and a negative attitude toward it will earn you the label of "right-winger."  A more advanced version of this notion is an admission that indeed, the Soviet implementation of socialism was not a success, but that fact does not repudiate the whole idea of socialism.

Never mind that every implementation of that idea has been disastrous: in China, Poland, Hungary, Cuba, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere.  Some implementations -- in North Korea and Venezuela -- are unraveling right before our eyes.  Yet the progressives wish to repeat the same failed experiment again and again, claiming that the next one will succeed.  When they learn that I am a fan of the American version of capitalism, they either stare in disbelief or smile condescendingly.  Most of them are unable to find Romania on a map, they may not know the difference between Lennon and Lenin, and they may suppose that a Molotov cocktail is an alcoholic drink, yet they enjoy wallowing in their sense of intellectual superiority over my naïveté.

If you want to fit in with the progressives, first, you should educate yourself on what is cool and what is uncool to them.  Here is a partial list.

  • University departments of environmental science and ethnic and gender studies are cool; engineering and chemistry departments are uncool.
  • Astrology, self-fulfillment, and self-realization are cool; astronomy and trigonometry are uncool.
  • Acupuncture and traditional eastern medicine are cool; MRI and DNA studies are uncool.
  • Public defenders are cool; prosecutors are uncool, and so is capital punishment -- or any punishment for that matter, because crime is always society's fault.
  • Developing countries are cool; developed countries are uncool.
  • Multiculturalism is cool; national sovereignty is uncool.
  • The Arab refugees from Israel are cool; the Jewish refugees from Arab countries are uncool.
Some of the items on the "cool" list are inconsistent.  Thus, the progressives insist that society should devote more resources to the children who receive failing grades and who do not care about their classes than to the gifted children who are eager to learn.  In line with their egalitarian belief system, progressives would rather cater to the lowest common denominator by lowering standards for everyone and blaming the Fs on society.  Hard subjects like geometry are sacrificed in favor of softer ones, such as fine arts, as the goal is to make all students feel good about themselves.

Yet the glamorized "egalitarian" Soviet Union pursued just the opposite policy -- the Soviet government devoted far more resources to the gifted students studying hard subjects.  That "elitist" policy allowed the USSR to stay in competition for seventy years.

In addition to the "cool" and "uncool" lists, there is an "off-limits" list.  It consists of the uncomfortable phenomena that do not conform to the progressives' tenets.  Here are a couple of them, along with their common responses.  If you live in Southern California, you probably know that the "Rainbow Coalition" is merely a convenient but fictitious construct created by politicians for their own benefits.  They do not care about the reality of ongoing tensions between the black and Latino communities that sometimes lead to violence, or about the fact that both communities overwhelmingly voted for California's anti-gay Proposition 8.  The politically correct explanation is that these hostilities were created by evil, conniving conservatives.  The anti-gay sentiment among blacks and Latinos is usually blamed on their churches, which raises the question: Why did only the predominantly black and Latino churches promote that attitude, but not other churches?

Ditto for making candid observations about things like persecutions of Christians, Jews, and other infidels in Muslim, half-Muslim, or soon-to-become Muslim countries -- or other uncool things practiced there, like honor killings, flogging of blasphemers, or legalized polygamy.  If you mention these glitches during a polite conversation about the otherwise cool societies, the reaction will vary.  Chances are that you will be dismissed as a ranting Islamophobe.

A friendlier interlocutor may give you a standard lecture blaming all these aberrations on colonialism, on the Crusades, or on the Israeli blockade of Gaza.  Smooth-talking American Muslims invited to TV debates assure us that only existing implementations of Sharia are "wrong," but the one that they have in mind for this country will be "right."  (Have not we heard similar claims from our Marxist friends?)  But if they are more sophisticated intellectuals, you will hear something to the effect that "every culture must be understood strictly within its own context," or about "moral relativism," or the need to "challenge Western supremacy."

Which leaves me with only one question: Have they seen that video of a screaming woman being flogged by Sudanese policemen?