Rise of the Knee-Jerks

How Vacuous Protesting Became Millennials’ Idea of a Good Time

by Alexander Zubatov

With GQ — in a gesture so tone-deaf that it seems like an ironic joke from a dystopian fiction novel— now giving its “citizen of the year” honor to Colin Kaepernick, a guy whose every word and deed screams self-obsessed doofus who puts his big “I” in “team,” protesting America is apparently now a mark of good American citizenship. NFL players are doing it. Young athletes are doing it. We are officially living in a nation where we have six-year-olds taking a knee during the pledge of allegiance. Yes, this is only one six-year-old, but does anyone have any doubt there will soon be many more imitating this kindergarten Colin Kaepernick? NFL games apparently now need to come with a don’t-try-this-at-home warning. The irony is that the NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem are, just like this overly precocious six-year-old, merely imitating something they’ve seen on t.v. As one of the guys they’re mimicking has acknowledged, most of these players likely have no idea why they’re protesting or whether they’re even protesting something specific or simply showing solidarity, so that protesting has become little more than a kind of unusual team-building exercise that has the unfortunate side effect of antagonizing and alienating fans. If Dallas Cowboys owner and Trump supporter and donor Jerry Jones is joining his team in taking a knee, we can be pretty sure that the purpose of the protests, to the extent they ever had any, has been lost.

The reality is that, like the TakeAKnee hashtag, protesting has become a thing. When Pepsi starts trying to monetize protesting — which, then, fittingly results in protests against Pepsi for trivializing the protests — this speaks volumes: protesting is now an end in itself. Just like these NFL players, Millennials — perhaps the most annoying and brittle generation in human history — protest to show solidarity. Having increasingly deprived themselves of old-fashioned pleasures like sex, drugs and alcohol, Millennials go to protests for a good time, the way older generations used to go to parties. For every one passionate politico, there are likely to be many more me-too tagalongs. Like many friends and acquaintances I know who hopped on the dump-on-Trump protest bandwagon, they do it because their friends are doing it, because it’s a fun way of whiling away a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The regrettable aspect of such behavior is that, just like these latest NFL protests, it has consequences. The protests spread a hateful, intolerant ideology that reflexively demonizes most of America. Following the lead of race-obsessed fanatics such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, who sees the world through race-colored glasses and so, can’t help but find racism everywhere he looks, these as-yet-amateur protesters imbibe half-baked notions and begin to adopt the Orwellian cant of the protesting profession, throwing around trendy, vague nonsense about “privilege,” “whiteness,” “white supremacy” “institutional racism,” “racial injustice,” “intersectionality,” “mass incarceration,” the “carceral state” and the “destruction of the black body.” Driven not by the spirit of open-minded rational inquiry but by a need to find the kind of social solidarity and acceptance that brought them to this particular dance in the first place, they adopt empirically discredited beliefs perpetuated by the sensationalizing organs of the mass media and become completely impervious to empirical evidence repeatedly showing, for instance, that the much-touted epidemic of cops killing blacks that is supposed to lie at the core and origin of this protest movement does not actually exist. In the end, they become as fanatical as their mentors. They cannot brook dissent. They call for “honest conversations” in which only they and their ideological comrades get to do the talking. When met with reasoned disagreement and facts that do not fit neatly within their preconceived schemas, they lash out with profanities and epithets that cut off any possibility of engaged discussion: racist, fascist, sexist, white supremacist and so on…. When all else fails, they return to their core m.o.: protesting, shouting down and shutting up all those with whom they disagree.

In the end, they come to embrace the mirror image of the very kind of angry bigotry they purport to oppose (to quote Nietzsche, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into you”). They substitute knee-jerk reactions for honest reflection. Like ill-mannered boors who insist on talking through a declared moment of silence or raining on others’ parades, these knee-jerks take a knee at the very instant when others are engaging in a collective display of ceremonial reverence. Recognizing none of this nation’s achievements but only all the ways in which we have fallen short, they take a knee on the Star-Spangled Banner. They take a knee on America. They shame themselves, and they shame the rest of us, the ones whose children and friends and neighbors they are, the ones forced to sit and witness these ignominious displays. They rouse us up to new heights of anger and polarization. They inspire recriminations and reprisals, and when these come in the form of enraged and extremist overreactions (like those in Charlottesville), they point the finger of blame, diagnose a new or never-vanquished epidemic of white supremacy and say, we told you so. And the cycle continues. The knee-jerks make knee-jerks of us all. If the knee-jerks are not stopped, they will bring America to its knees.

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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”

Some of his articles have appeared in The Federalist, Times Higher Education, The Imaginative Conservative, The Independent Journal Review, Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, Mercatornet, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.

He makes occasional, unscheduled appearances on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Zoobahtov).

I am an attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. I am a writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays & polemics.