178. Contemplation (III)
Harvey Milk was a first-class American of the new type; it might even be said that he was among the first of the new type. He must have been a true Stakhanovite for America—a people’s martyr—since he has a US Navy ship named after him—he was in the navy once, after all. He was an innovator, whose career set the scene for the political environment of the next thirty to forty years. What was innovative about Milk? He built a coalition of gays, Chinese, blacks, Jews, and assorted minority groups—including, by his own account, “seniors”; though I wonder how true that was—to challenge what Milk described as “white power” in San Francisco. This “coalition of the oppressed”, the child of ’68-style thought, is pretty much the normal way for America and her empire to conceptualise politics today.
Milk was assassinated by Dan White, a fireman turned politician who served with Milk on the same board. White was, symbolically, white America; the white power structure Milk disliked. The fatal clash came about through the collision of two different political styles: the straightforward hierarchical approach of the fire department, of the West more generally; and the lawyer-like manipulation, moralised rhetoric, and psychological double binds characteristic of particular ethnic groups—and especially women. What the other politicians experienced as normal politics—lying and manipulating people emotionally—White experienced as corruption and double-dealing; he resolved this, eventually, through violence.
White stands for a recurrent theme whereby Western societies deal with other groups who use negotiation tactics that rely on moralised manipulation and rhetoric to guilt-trip dominant groups into compliance. The American left specialises in gaslighting, it specialises in the psychological double bind: “We’re all about love and acceptance; we just want to help the marginalised.” Disagreement is met by the snarl—what they really meant by “love” was deniable coercion, rather than transparent and explicit coercion. “Why do you have to be a hater?” they say, as they burn a shop and rave about dismantling whiteness.
The subject of gaslighting eventually reacts with violence—rather like a husband who is subtly goaded by his wife for months before he delivers a slap; she then runs round to the neighbours to howl: “He’s a monster! He’s a bully!” The Eastern Europeans have a similar proverb: “The Jew cries out as he hits you.” These refer to the same psychological function; the other person goads you into an attack by lots of small, almost invisible, provocations but, if the victim hits back, screams: “Bully! Monster!” American leftists are fascinated by microaggression because they are the arch-microaggressors. This approach works well in an office environment and since huge numbers of people in the West work in offices, the approach transcends sex and ethnic groups. It is intimately connected to bitchiness and politics in the sense of “office politics”.
Remember that Milk actually said that his goal was to destroy the “white power” structure; despite his “nice” persona, if you pull back a little, he actually levelled an existential threat at another ethnic group—a provocation. The jury at White’s trial gave him a lenient sentence, taken as proof of “white power” by Milk’s supporters; in America, jury trials are mostly unjust, due to the multi-racial character of the society—see the farrago of OJ Simpson’s trial. Tried by his peers, White’s enemies saw the trial as “rigged”; if he were tried by a jury of blacks, gays, and so on it would be no more just—it would be as “rigged” in another way. Yet the other interpretation is that the jury understood that White had been provoked to the limit by a political system that was dominated by people who were against him; hence his lenient sentence. Currently, America seems to be locked in a Milk-White dynamic at a national scale; the question is when the silent majority will snap under dire provocation—and, if they do, I suspect they will be, once again, called “the monsters”.