Laughter and Forgetting

The tone-deaf lives of bourgeois liberals

A guest op-ed appeared in The New York Times this week. Its headline read, “We will forget most of the pandemic. And that’s a good thing.” This odd submission was penned by Scott Small, an executive at, of all things, an Alzheimer’s foundation. Small has also written a book called, Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering, which sounds awfully strange in the context of the pandemic. Small seems to mean well, and reasonably encourages an eventual letting go of some of the emotional trauma of the pandemic, if just for one’s own mental health, to use forgetting of some emotional turmoil to bring a little laughter back into our lives. Yet he writes within a framework that necessarily repurposes his narrative to its own design. A design that regularly denies responsibility for crimes and encourages forgetting or the rewriting of essential history. That is the track record of this illustrious bourgeois outlet.

A flurry of social media responses followed in predictable succession. One that resonated with me was from Jenin Younes, civil liberties attorney and author, and also a former lefty who has moved into the political wilderness with millions of progressives disillusioned by the lockdown and mandates mania of liberals. Younes simply pointed out events that likely wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—be forgotten. Among them, some 50M laid-off workers; the millions around the world thrown into poverty; the 200,000 entrepreneurs whose businesses failed through no fault of their own; the families physically barred from seeing dying loved ones; those who discovered they had been carrying metastasizing fatal illnesses because hospitals refused to see them; and powerless and confused children “tormented for two years to pacify hysterical and irrational adults.”

Younes is dead right. The Times attempts to blithely sweep these crimes under the proverbial rug along with their own complicity in cheerleading the unconscionably authoritarian behavior and selectively publishing data to keep their readers largely uninformed. Uninformed about what? About the raging debate happening across the country and world, a collision that cleaved society after society in half, wounds that won’t heal anytime soon. Nor should the swift action by countless governments be forgotten. Should we chalk up the hundreds of thousands of adverse and perhaps permanent adverse reactions to a mandatory vaccine as the price of progress? Should we cavalierly pull an Obama who, when faced with Bush administration’s war crimes, straightened his azure tie, cleared his throat, and silkily purred that he preferred to look forward not backward. Should we give Oz a pass for its internment camps and universal discrimination? Should we send a plaque to every ruined small business owner acknowledging the state crushed their livelihoods unnecessarily before hastily filing the entire calamity in the ‘lost causes’ drawer? Can we forget the enthusiastic police violence against rightful protesters, the very people whose rights they are paid to uphold? Perhaps we can if we were are on the other side of all this, first in line for the latest injection, triple masked in the CVS, dutifully observing a personal curfew, clapping madly out the window each day at dusk to make ourselves heard (and possibly to thank heroic healthcare workers). Perhaps we can.

One hesitates to invoke Orwell anymore because it feels increasingly like flogging a dead horse. We need new cultural references. Our reality has outstripped our fiction. Future children reading Orwell will call him “Covidian.” But we can briefly recall that the strength of the state of Oceania in 1984 owed much of its success to the practice of revising history post-hoc and throwing the actual facts of history down the “memory hole.” “Newspeak,” “doublethink,” and “thoughtcrime” were all unnervingly apt over the last two years.

A lesser referenced cultural touchstone is Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting. In post-war Czechoslovakia the Czech Communist Party was chaired by Klement Gottwald. A famous photo from 1948 featured Gottwald giving a speech in Prague, standing next to Foreign Minister Vladimír Clementis. Later on, Clementis was evidently jailed for being a “bourgeois nationalist” and eventually hanged for allegedly participating in a conspiracy against communism. In the wake of this embarrassment, the state propaganda ministry seized the photograph, among thousands of others, and visually erased Clementis from the photo. The hat on Gottwald’s head, however, belonged to Clementis, who had handed it to Gottwald to warm him on that bitterly cold February afternoon. For Kundera, it was a warning of the dangers of totalitarian overreach and the erasure of history.

Like Gottwald didn’t want to be associated with his disgraced colleague, neither does The Times and the bourgeois liberals of the Professional Managerial Class (PMC) want to be associated with the now discredited policies they so enthusiastically supported during the pandemic. In this dim light, and from the perspective of the guilty, one can understand the manifold “benefits of not remembering.”

Of course, it is no surprise that the NYT would nonchalantly slip this view onto its op-ed page. It was already whitewashing the historical record in real-time when—according to The Spectator—a top editor at the paper forbade staff to investigate the origins of Covid19. They were to exclusively promote a zoonotic origin. This is, in miniature, all that is wrong with mainstream media: it has abdicated journalism in favor of public relations on behalf of its owners and advertisers, whose interests, it must be said, are almost always contrary to those of the majority. And the better half of sundering the prosperity of the masses lies in the act of forgetting what was done to them yesterday, the better to repeat it tomorrow. Who did what to whom and for whom is the “danger in remembering too much,” as our admonishing guest contributor tells us. And yet, even as The Times itself is the empty husk of a paper that once claimed all its news was fit to print, it continues to churn out daily deceits. As the Riddler asks in The Batman, What does a dead liar do? He lies still.

There’s plenty that’s fit to remember about this pandemic. Small says we should remember lost loved ones and heroic healthcare workers. But what of our own complicity in sanctioning repression and our almost mindless slide into an authoritarian enforcement corps? Or the complicity of peers? Sometimes in modern society it seems the most urgent need is to ensure that everyone is left blameless. All culpability wiped from the ledger. The tag of guilt thrown thoughtlessly round the neck of “well-meaning overreach” and “the system.” Sorry to say, but that’s how history repeats itself, isn’t it? Or maybe I’m misremembering.

Image credit: Wall Street Journal.

Julien Charles is a concerned citizen hoping to call attention to the authoritarian drift of states across the Western world, and the disingenuous narratives promoted to gain consensus for such measures. Read other articles by Julien.