In some of the various times and places in which humans have used firearms to execute other humans, we find an interesting ritual practiced. Each member of the firing squad gave his musket to his commanding officer, who loaded the muskets, passed them back to his soldiers, and gave the order to kill. One of the weapons would have a powder charge with no musket ball; the rest would be loaded properly. Each man in the line would aim his musket, pull the trigger, and do his duty. For the rest of his life, he could tell himself that his might have been the non-lethal shot. At the same time, he could not judge his comrades as murderers when he himself was as likely to be guilty or innocent as they.

This ritual created a space for ambiguity. A space into which guilt could be discharged. An identical practice has been used in modern-day executions by firing squad, except that a wax slug is used in place of the missing bullet to allow for realistic recoil. We see similar rituals in other paradigms of execution, from Pontius Pilate’s futile gesture of hand-washing to our own sterile, medicalized way of killing our killers (in America, at least). We do this because we know, however just the cause, however vile the offender, that life has an inherent value and dignity. No matter what we must do, we dare not deny that, lest we be destroyed by guilt.

I think the entire history of progressivism, especially the late metastatic stage of leftism that has given us abortion on demand and gay “marriage,” is a sequence of such rituals, performed in the escalating cadence of a neurotic who, in the midst of a breakdown, washes her hands with increasingly frenetic desperation. It is not enough that gay marriage be legal; it becomes imperative that everyone participate, willing or not: dissenters are sought out, forced to declare themselves, and ordered to bake cakes or pay fines. It is not enough that gay people can be gay in peace; we must all bear witness to every kiss and affirm the righteousness of each thrust. It is not enough that birth control be available; we have to try make nuns pay for it. It is not enough that abortion be legal; it must be depicted as fun, cool, and empowering. It must be everywhere, as late in pregnancy as whim fancies, and paid for by those who disagree with it.

In the case of abortion, this is not just about money; abortion is already cheap and ubiquitous in most states. In my former home of New York, it’s easier in some ways to get an abortion than a pack of smokes (no ID requirement, no adulthood requirement, no parental consent requirement). It is not even that the pro-abortion activists think abortion is right and we need to be made to see that; on the contrary: their need to make others participate, or pay, or approve is a direct result of their unshakeable certainty that it is murder. The more people who can be made complicit, the less guilt is left for the one committing the act. The very zeal with which abortion is pushed in our culture reveals the truth that no one thinks it is right. Indeed, no one can.

The gay rights movement is of a similar character. If gay sex was just a different, equally valid, kind of sex, as we are supposed to think, there would be no parades. There would be no adoptions, or “marriages,” or press-ganging of unwilling photographers and bakers for “weddings.” The hope is that some day, when the gay couple stands in a church that the state has compelled to marry them, full of acquaintances who are scared not to attend, and everyone is sufficiently cowed to sit silently and watch, that maybe then, finally, they will believe that their union is the real thing.

This all tells us something about right and left in this late stage of decline. The right serves, in a way, as the conscience of civilization. By remaining firmly connected to reality, we tell society things that it already knows but would prefer not to be reminded of. We are the alcoholic’s friend who tries to impart perspective on the destructive effects of excessive, thoughtless consumption; we are the creditor who calls the debtor every day to remind him of the reality that will not go away, however firmly he denies it.

In the end, this is why they hate us so much. This is why they need “safe spaces.” A safe space is where you can’t hear the phone ring as your creditors call and call; a place where you can forget the accumulating interest of a loan you took out against reality. Unlike financial bankruptcy, moral bankruptcy will not save you from paying what you owe. Debts to reality are always collected, with interest.

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