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Stop Being Shocked—Once and for All

The ideas, institutions, and people that caused the collapse

The Editors
October 13, 2023
Abandoned school, Detroit

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None of the horrors you are witnessing this week—not the massacre of Jews, not the betrayal by public figures and popular activist movements, not the moral insanity of our universities and cultural spaces—happened by accident.

For the past decade, an elite consensus began to emerge. It was marketed as a worldview of optimism, of progress and justice brought about by the dawning of correct morality. It favored using the power of digital monopolies and elite institutions to reeducate Americans in new and better ways of thinking, writing, speaking, and being.

Many of us at Tablet believed strongly, and still believe, in the possibility of creating a better world. But something bothered us from the very beginning about these ideas, and the people pushing them. Every time we pressed on one of the newly mass-embraced policy proposals or narratives—intersectionality, decolonization studies, the Iran nuclear deal, Russiagate, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, critical race theory, COVID lockdowns—a weird thing would happen: The idea itself fell apart at the seams within seconds of contact with reality, and yet its defenders got more sure of themselves, more performatively boastful, more passionate and gleeful about smearing anyone who dared to question them.

The more we listened to freshly minted universal experts, the more we were struck by the increasing lunacy of their pronouncements on every topic under the sun, always backed by “studies” and “science”—where COVID-19 came from, how many genders there are, which skin tones and personal experiences qualify a person for protection status and which do not, whether it was OK for a Syrian dictator to bomb and gas 500,000 of his people, whether the U.S. should ally itself with a Holocaust-denying medieval theocracy, whether the president of the United States was secretly a Russian agent, whether large American cities should let drug addicts and violent schizophrenics get high on the streets and steal stuff—and more. Indeed, over time, we were struck by how little the ideas themselves seemed to matter; what so many people seemed most attached to was power.

As journalists, the increasingly strident calls for uniformity of opinion and perception struck us, from the very beginning, as dangerous and wrong. We believe in empirical investigation and analysis and in subjective personal observation and experience, not in party-line obedience to an instant consensus being formed and managed God knows how or where. As Jews, we had concerns, too. For as long as we’ve been in this country, Jews have relied on and sung the praises of stalwart American institutions like the federal government, universities, media organizations, corporations, labor unions, and more. We watched in horror as each of these institutions not only fell prey to the new mania, but also seemed increasingly unable to do the jobs they had historically been tasked with doing.

We were also alarmed that … no one else was alarmed, especially among communal leaders. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union, once the protectors of the vulnerable, became handmaidens of power. Think tanks and politicians and journalists gave cover for policies that seemed obviously destined to set the world on fire. Internet monopolies merged with the federal government to produce a censorship and surveillance apparatus that would ensure that only the voices of some could be heard.

Tablet didn’t wade into the culture wars for its own sake. We did it because we feared we saw an emerging world in which the broad-minded American civic ideals and institutions that had kept us safe for so long were falling apart, which was bad for the country—and also meant that Jews would once again be seen as enemies to be eliminated.

As a result, our archive now looks like the answer to the question faced by so many people this week—namely: What the hell is going on?

Below is a selection from the past five years.

“The Collapse: Is this the end of American Jewry’s golden age?” by Adam Garfinkle (April 2019)

“Everything Is Broken: And How to Fix It” by Alana Newhouse (January 2021)

For a printable, special edition of The Tab featuring these articles, click here.

From the editors of Tablet Magazine.