Kevin Williamson has a book coming out next week, The Smallest Minority. This article in NR is an excerpt.
We think in language. We signal6 in memes. Language is the instrument of discourse. Memes are the instrument of antidiscourse, i.e., communication designed and deployed to prevent the exchange of information and perspectives rather than to enable it, a weapon of mass intellectual destruction — the moron bomb. The function of discourse is to know other minds and to make yours known to them; the function of antidiscourse is to lower the status of rivals and enemies. Antidiscourse is not a conversation about politics — it is politics; it is no more discourse than a “Beto for Senate” yard sign is literature. It is a way of holding the conversation captive within politics itself rather than permitting it to get partly clear of the wall and examine the questions of the day from the outside with some degree of clarity and independence. Antidiscourse and discourse serve different functions; trying to understand what is going on in political life by relying on antidiscourse is like trying to fuel a Falcon Heavy rocket with Soarin’ Strawberry Kool-Aid. Caravaggio didn’t paint The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew with his dick.
War and peace, taxing and spending, crime and punishment, detonating munitions on the heads of goat-bothering savages in Panjshir until all that’s left looks like a hot-yoga class following a PTA meeting in Greenwich, Conn.: None of these can be addressed in a way that does any real political work without a political culture that not only tolerates genuine discourse — meaning genuine disagreement — but also understands what discourse is for, which is not petty advantage-seeking, cultural gang-sign flashing, and cheap partisan opportunism. But we do not have that kind of a political culture, or, in some ways, any culture at all, properly understood. What we have is Instant Culture, which is to culture what stevia is to sugar, what masturbation is to sex, what Paul Krugman’s New York Times vomitus is to journalism, what Monday’s dank memes are to the English language: a substitute that replicates the real thing in certain formal ways but that remains nonetheless entirely lacking in the essence of the thing itself.
And that is why the desire for popularity is the original sin of the American intellectual: When he subordinates his independent mind to the demands of the herd, he ceases to perform any useful function. He abandons culture for Instant Culture, discourse for antidiscourse, and truth-seeking for status-seeking.