In his most recent post, Kristor tells of his sense that fresh wood has been thrown on the fire that licks the pot in which conservative frogs have long simmered. As you can see in the comments, he is not the only frog to feel the scald and twitch. I was, indeed, one of those commenters, so you can count me among scalded and twitching frogs.
The New York Times certainly stoked the boiler when it owned the shrill libels of Sarah Jeong, but the caloric adaptability of conservative frogs is legendary, as is the speed with which their twitching subsides. I know that I have gotten used to finding a nasty animus between the lines in the New York Times, and so expect I will get used to finding their nasty animus printed in plain English.
Sputtering dudgeon is a state to which every conservative grows accustomed.
When some new outrage triggers a fit of sputtering dudgeon, many conservatives find relief in imagining that their enemies have at last “gone too far” and are about to “wake a sleeping giant.” This strikes me as unlikely, and also as an unhappy metaphor, given what fairy stories have taught me about giants who rise from their slumbers in wrath. For students of the sleeping giant, the locus classicus is, no doubt, the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and from this story we learn that a faith in sleeping giants is a misplaced faith.
The first thing we learn is that giants are extraordinarily sound sleepers—so sound that, in the case of Jack’s giant, it was possible for the pilfering thief to swipe from under the giant’s nose not only his hen that laid golden eggs, but also two large bags of silver and gold. While making away with the latter, Jack was badgered by the giant’s dog, which “barked at Jack most furiously,” but no matter how furiously the dog barked,
“the giant did not wake from his sound sleep, and the dog grew tired of barking.”
Every conservative Cassandra knows just how that dog felt.
Having deprived the giant of all but one of his treasures, Jack resolved to climb the beanstalk one last time and take the giant’s singing harp. It was on this last raid that Jack succeeded in “waking the sleeping giant.” But the consequences of the giant’s waking were not such as to reassure those who would place their faith in sleeping giants.
It so happens that this particular giant was a sot who had been sleeping in a state of inebriation, and who therefore woke to a fury that was stumbling, stupid and slow.
“Jack ran as fast as he could, and in a little time the giant recovered sufficiently to walk slowly, or rather to reel after him. Had he been sober, he would have overtaken Jack instantly; but as he then was, Jack contrived to be first at the top of the bean-stalk . . .”
First at the top and, as every child knows, first at the bottom.
“The moment Jack got down the bean-stalk, he called out for a hatchet, and one was brought him directly. Now just at that instant the giant was beginning to descend, but Jack cut the beanstalk with his hatchet . . . which made the giant fall headlong into the garden. The fall was so great that it killed him . . .”
So much for the terrible vengeance of a sleeping giant roused. If Sarah Jeong is half as nimble and resourceful as Jack, she and her ilk will strip the conservative giant of everything, and then fertilize their garden with its body and its bones.
In their fits of sputtering dudgeon, some conservatives find solace in the thought that, at the end of the day, conservatives have more guns. For my part, I cannot see the use of guns in a culture war. Guns are just like the long legs and brawny arms of Jack’s giant: fearsome at first glance, but a broken reed in the face of a man with a hatchet.
If a conservative fires his gun, or brandishes his gun, or merely mentions that he has a gun tucked away in the back of his closet, he will, of course, be instantly demonized as an unhinged terrorist and banished to the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Like the enraged giant, he will find the beanstalk cut from under him; he will “fall headlong into the garden” of Sarah Jeong and her ilk; and in that place his decomposing body and bones will add bounty to their harvest.
The man with a hatchet is, of course, the man with the power to interpret events and represent reality. The man with the hatchet is the man who gets to tell the story after the giant has fallen to earth and the guns have been put away.
Consider that Jack is a pilfering thief and the giant, at worst, an intemperate brute. And then consider which of the two comes off as the hero. As he stepped onto the topmost limb of that fatal beanstalk, the giant was, in truth, an outraged householder burning with righteous anger at a thief, and yet the storyteller has us cheering for larcenous Jack.
Don’t be that giant! Don’t even think about climbing down the beanstalk until you have taken possession of Jack’s hatchet, or at the very least seriously blunted its blade.