The Second Reading

Last month, I read “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats for the first time.

I was naively moved by the poem and even wondered if literati were particularly haunted by its foreboding imagery the night before the Presidential election.

Soon after the election, I took the time to discover more about Yeats.

And I was horrified.

Like so many popular writers, artists, and athletes, Yeats was a fascist. Even a eugenicist. Knowing such facts about Yeats, I reread The Second Coming and righted (sic) my understanding of his often-cited (but misunderstood?) poem.

Upon my first reading, I erroneously matched a second Trump term with a dreaded Second Coming, slouching toward us bringing inexorable doom. But now knowing Yeats was an aristocrat who admired authoritarianism, the poem’s meaning is clearly the opposite.

Today Yeats, with his embrace of mysticism and the occult, would be fanatical QAnon storming the Capitol battling for a messianic Trump Second Coming against a “rough beast” with its Biden face and Democrat body. Rather than an insurrection by MAGA terrorists, for Yeats, the anarchy “loosed upon the world” is the mob of Democrats who “stole the election”.

Yeats is frightening.

An elitist member of the Intelligentsia who weaponizes words of poetry like today’s tweets to deliberately manipulate the masses for political profit. Yeats is Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and other conniving Harvard Law School and Ivy League graduates (opportunists) manufacturing consent (for lies) to amass wealth and political power.

Yeats ironically is the rough beast he laments: Yeats is Stephen Miller. A self-conflicted Jewish white supremacist. A manipulator of words deliberately groomed and trained to “launder white nationalist ideas through the language of heritage, of economics, of national security”.

Outside the political sphere, “somewhere in the sands [Silicon] of the desert [Valley]”, Yeats is today’s self-righteous media platforms — Facebook (including Occulus, Instagram, and Whatsapp), Google (and YouTube), Fox — unaccountable corporate behemoths who profess to do no harm yet sow filthy lucre, reaping riskless profits by feeding the lowest lies, spying on citizens, bankrupting Journalism, and killing Democracy.

So like the circling falcon, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre”, how and why do the orbit, influence, and myth of Yeats persist and grow?

Like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham — no matter how reprehensible and hypocritical — Yeats mysteriously accumulates literary cachet without reputational damage, as he is frequently lifted and cited — from Joan Didion to Lou Reed to Joni Mitchell to even last year’s Devs mini-series finale.

Yeats survives and thrives because of our widening epistemic crisis.

Today hard Truth sublimates instantly into a vapor of “Truthiness”*.

Without the solidity of Truth, there is no reliable mooring to anchor Rationality, Morality, and Society together. So citizens are left isolated and alone — trapped as expendable pawns — in a Game owned and ruled by corporate moral hazard.

Benighted in this Game, citizens unwittingly play (devolve to) the role of Consumer and are endowed with just one move: a perfunctory gulp.

From birth, we are bred and led to reflexively swallow the latest pop culture trinkets, memes, fads, or Fake News while perpetually chasing illusory, unattainable goals — of endless Youth, Strength, Beauty.

And to “win” this Game, we practice and covet just one skill: to be dogged Cool Hunters — Seekers and Arbiters of What’s Currently Cool.

But what we don’t understand is that Cool is candy.

Artificial marketing sweetener, topping, and whipped cream that cloys us into wanting and buying What’s Next. Cool is bling that blinds us from detecting poor quality and cheap lies. Cool is our shortcut to a circuitous dead-end that repeatedly exploits lethargy, permitting us to rest easy, believing what others say rather than thinking for ourselves.

Cool creates impunity.

Cool seduces our senses, enticing our emotions, allowing us to ignore our minds, facts, homework, and Science.

Cool lets us ignore the editorial process, fact-checking, and second readings, permitting Cool to rewrite Art, History, Music, and Literature, turning rough beasts into Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Like a goblin from the world of Yeats, Cool conjures up a cult of personality and cultural lassitude that allows us to ignore atrocities, decency, and the needs and suffering of others, making empathy anathema.

Cool exonerates us when we ignore Equality and Justice permitting Demagogues, Insurrection, Hate, Crime, and Corruption to go unpunished.

Cool makes fascism fashionable.

Nobody is vaccinated against Cool.

Popular, well-intentioned, progressive-minded people—e.g., professors, journalists, writers, scientists, artists, and activists — are particularly susceptible to Cool because they dangerously presuppose years of Education have trained their intellectual immune system to detect lies, injustice, machinations, and malfeasance. Over-estimation and reliance on such apparent protection — ironically — makes them perhaps the most targeted vectors for Cool since once infected (inculcated), they unknowingly (asymptomatically) spread Cool rapidly, nefariously, and far from high and wide media platforms.

I myself have perused T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, played guitar while Morrissey sang about Yeats in “Cemetery Gates”, crooned with Elvis Costello over “Alison”, and admired Albert Einstein… so blithely, blindly, and smugly unaware of the hate, bigotry, and xenophobia spewed manifestly by these writers, artists, and scientists. Hey, they seemed cool at the time! Everybody said so.

Like powerful poetic imagery, Cool controls our imagination, brainwashes us, keeps money dark, distracts us from questioning rules of this Game, discovering who fund this Game, and who profits from this Game.

Ultimately, Cool knows winning this Game is about Power.

And that Power is about Money.

The best lack all money, while the worst
Are full of passionate billions.

*March 31, 2021: In yet another example of how I’ve been fooled — once again — by the Impunity of Cool, I repped a phrase coined by Stephen Colbert, heretofore unaware of Colbert’s well-documented history of anti-Asian humor and Colbert’s convenient use of Comedy as cover for racism. Colbert apparently views himself as so “woke” that he believes his jokes about race and cancel culture are innocuous, rendering him blameless for any negative effects of his “craft”. Like so many artists, Colbert resorts to Comedy as his alibi, exculpatory evidence that he (and fans) believes gives him a self-pardon for any wrongdoing.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store