Living Amid the Tribunal: A Case Study

In 2019, a young comedian named Shane Gillis won the career-making prize most North American comics dream of, earning a job as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. In response to this hiring, someone named Seth Simons took to social media to draw attention to a past performance in which Gillis (“who is white,” as the media would announce today, as though it were incriminating evidence) played an Asian character, which included speaking English with — cue gasps of startled outrage — a stereotypical Asian accent. 

In the wake of the inevitable wave of ersatz alarm and progressive invective directed at Gillis over his supposed offense against that alternative reality called cultural sensitivity, Saturday Night Live, playing to recent (and boringly tribal) type, reversed its hiring decision, thereby dumping a young performer and his family in an instant, and clearly without a twinge of conscience, from the heights of triumphant success to the depths of career poisoning by public shaming. In the process, the SNL cowards were of course protecting themselves by implicitly pretending to have been unaware of the content of Gillis’ career when they hired him, in a clear example of the shamelessness and self-protective immorality that the neo-Marxist tribunal is designed to inject into the bloodstream of public life.

A very small number of former SNL cast members used their public voices to speak up for Gillis and against Simons, the “cancel culture” mob, and SNL. None, however, did so with the ferocity of Norm Macdonald, who had himself been famously fired from SNL some twenty years earlier. After initially calling out Simons as an embittered sore loser who “couldn’t make it as a comic so he decided to destroy real comics,” and offering sympathetic support to the newcomer Gillis, Macdonald fully vented his spleen, and revealed more of his true nature than was common for him, with this tweet directed at Simons a month later, in response to the latter’s public expression of satisfaction over Gillis’ firing. (I have edited for politeness.)

Hey, you f—ing piece of s—, it’s you that’s The Joker, a failed stand-up that kills someone who got a TV show. I cannot wait to meet you. And I will.

I note that while this public message wears its anger too much on its sleeve, it also quite accurately identifies more of the truth about Marxism (cultural or otherwise) than most people have the moral clarity to understand or the intellectual independence to admit. Stepping right past the ordinary fruitless and flimsy defenses in such cases — the pleas for “proportionality,” “forgiveness,” or “remembering the context” — Macdonald’s response instead goes right to the heart of the matter, drawing a direct link between cancel culture (which I, using more traditional totalitarian language, prefer to call the tribunal) and the psychological vectors of envy and spiteful retribution. Almost a century and a half earlier, Nietzsche had exposed the soul of socialist egalitarianism in similarly honest terms, such as in this notebook entry:

Socialism—as the logical conclusion of the tyranny of the least and the dumbest, i.e., those who are superficial, envious, and three-quarters actors—is indeed entailed by “modern ideas” and their latent anarchism…. (Will To Power, Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, translators, §125)

Unfortunately, Macdonald’s (not to mention Nietzsche’s) type of answer to the social justice crowd is a minority report. Most people with recognizable names today either duck low and stay passively behind the bushes, or join the mass destruction of never-ending retroactive rule-imposition that is the essence of totalitarian thought control. (I leave aside as essentially worthless those savvy frauds in politics and the media who seek to profit financially from the performance of “anti-woke” tribalism — finding your audience and playing to it for cash is not a moral stand.)

Macdonald’s blunt and merciless defense of free speech, and particularly of the right to say what might offend someone, without which right freedom of speech means nothing, may have been partly the response of a man who knew he was not long for this world — several years into cancer treatment, and two years away from death by acute leukemia — and who was therefore unaffected by such petty concerns as career repercussions. This, and not the “bitter old fogeys” rationale typically proffered by the cancel culture crowd, is probably the main reason that most of the (non-tribal) celebrities who are similarly courageous and defiant toward today’s progressive flash mob establishment seem to be old men, such as John Cleese, Van Morrison, or even Richard Dawkins. Having achieved most of what they will ever achieve, and hence sensing that their ultimate legacy is more or less fully defined already, such people are more inclined to feel morally and intellectually impervious to the mob’s primary threat, which, though extreme and life-altering, is also short-term and material, and therefore more likely to be experienced as an acute danger to those still looking toward their own futures with uncertainty.

Having said that, however, I must now offer a somewhat shocking revelation: Macdonald’s irreversibly fatal condition was merely a more intimately known version of your own. That is, we are all dying, and none of us know how soon. Considering this, we ought well to ask why so many of us live in fear of the tribunal? Lost financial or career opportunities? Fear of social rejection or public punishment? But what is all that, against the knowledge that you will be dead soon, and that what you do today, how you choose to comport yourself in the midst of today’s thought-suppressing “culture,” might very well be the legacy against which your whole life and worth will someday be judged? And judged not by a mindless mob or a molding mastermind, but by judges with real authority: Truth, History, Nature — not to mention the friends and loved ones among your contemporaries, whose own fragile and brief lives will inevitably be affected, one way or another, by what you are and what you do in this moment.

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