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Michelle Wolf and the Throwaway Culture

When we live in the space beyond good and evil, and when morality is construed as entirely the invention of personal freedom—then the will of the most powerful necessarily holds sway.

Michelle Wolf performing n Brooklyn in September 2016; right: Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, in 1882, by photographer Gustav Schultze. (Images: Wikipedia)

The other night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Michelle Wolf, who I’m told is a comedian, regaled the black-tie and sequin-gowned crowd with her “jokes.” Almost all were in extremely bad taste and/or wildly offensive, but one has become accustomed to that sort of coarseness in the comedy clubs and even on mainstream television. However, she crossed over into the territory of the morally appalling when she indulged in this bit of witticism regarding Vice President Mike Pence: “He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. And when you do try it, really knock it, you know. You gotta get that baby out of there.” One is just at a loss for words.  I mean, even some in the severely left-leaning crowd in Washington groaned a bit at that remark.

It might be helpful to remind ourselves what Ms. Wolf is referencing when she speaks of “knocking that baby out of there.” She means the evisceration, dismemberment, and vivisection of a child. And lest one think that we are just talking about “bundles of cells,” it is strict liberal orthodoxy that a baby can be aborted at any stage of its prenatal development, even while it rests in the birth canal moments before birth. Indeed, a child, who somehow miraculously survives the butchery of an abortion, should, according to that same orthodoxy, be left to die or actively killed. Sure sounds like fun to me; hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I realize that these attitudes have been enshrined in American law for some time, but what particularly struck me about the Correspondents’ Dinner was how they were being bandied about so shamelessly for the entertainment of the cultural elite. Let’s face it, the people in that room—politicians, judges, writers, broadcasters, government officials—are the top of the food chain, among the most influential and powerful people in our society. And while the killing of children was being joked about—especially, mind you, the children of the poor, who are disproportionately represented among the victims of abortion—most in this wealthy, overwhelmingly white, elite audience guffawed and applauded.

And this put me in mind of Friedrich Nietzsche. I’ve spoken and written often of the influence of this nineteenth-century thinker, whose musings have trickled their way down through the universities and institutions of the high culture into the general consciousness of many if not most people today. Nietzsche held that the traditional moral values have been exposed as ungrounded and that humanity is summoned to move, accordingly, into a previously unexplored space “beyond good and evil.” In such a morally unmoored universe, the Ubermensch (superman or over-man) emerges to assert his power and impose his rule on those around him. Nietzsche had a special contempt for the Christian values of sympathy, compassion, and love of enemies, characterizing them as the ideals of a “slave morality,” repugnant to the noble aspirations of the Ubermensch. Through his many avatars in the twentieth-century—Sartre, Heidegger, Foucault, Ayn Rand, etc.—Nietzsche, as I said, has exerted an extraordinary influence on contemporary thought. Whenever a young person today speaks of traditional ethics as a disguised play of power or of her right to determine the meaning of her own life through an exercise of sovereign freedom, we can hear the overtones of Friedrich Nietzsche.

All of which brings me back to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. When we live in the space beyond good and evil, when morality is construed as entirely the invention of personal freedom, when nothing counts as intrinsically wicked, when any claim to moral authority is automatically shouted-down—in other words, when we live in the world that Nietzsche made possible—then the will of the most powerful necessarily holds sway. And when something or someone gets in the way of what the powerful want, well then, they just “gotta knock it out of there.” Michelle Wolf’s comment was not just a bad joke; it was a brazen display of power, designed to appeal precisely to those who have reached the top of the greasy pole.

One of the extraordinary but often overlooked qualities of a system of objective morality is that it is a check on the powerful and a protection of the most vulnerable. If good and evil are objective states of affairs, then they hem in and control the tendency of cultural elites to dominate others. When objective moral values evanesce, armies of the expendable emerge, and what Pope Francis aptly calls a cultura del descarte (a throwaway culture) obtains. One of the indicators that this has happened is lots of people in tuxedos and formal gowns, sipping from wine glasses, and laughing while someone jokes about the murder of children.

About Bishop Robert Barron 134 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

14 Comments

  1. Nietzsche is definitely a lead culprit in the intellectual and cultural meltdown of the West, but maybe it’s even worse than that…

    When Hannah Arendt interviewed Adolf Eichmann, the captured overseer of Hitler’s “final solution” to the Jews, she found him to be “quite ordinary, commonplace, and something neither demonic nor monstrous.” She concluded that his participation in the demonic was due less to choice than to a habit of thoughtlessness, which she understood as our way of “protecting (ourselves) from reality.” The same with Albert Speer. Of all the atrocities against millions of Jews and others, Albert Speer as another lead operative explained, “I didn’t hate them. I was indifferent to them” (Inside the Third Reich, 1971).

    After a numbing and routine 60 million legalized abortions since 1973, just how then do you turn this thing around and walk it back (the reality of overturning Roe v Wade)?

    Error and even evil can be fought, but what about the habitual condition of somnambulism where to the power elite and a pliable public nothing is even real? What if there is no such thing, really, as “contemporary thought.” In the Church’s response to the “throwaway culture” it’s probably best to not slide past or even throw away Veritatis Splendor…

    • I enjoyed your comment. Although indifference will get you into Hell as quickly as Hatred, “Whenever you did not do this for the least…”.

    • Bishop Barron doesn’t think the Church should try to push back against gay marriage, which only happened a few years ago. Why would he think the Church ought to push back against abortion, which has been entrenched in law and social expectations for over 45 years?

  2. Donald Trump and Rpublicans created this atmosphere and it takes a bawdy woman to respond. I’m OK with that. The problem is not Michelle Wolf, the problem is us.

    • A response that says abortion is good and ‘us’ saying “I’m OK with that”…yes the problem is indeed then us. I don’t think making this a political issue is the answer. This is a cultural issue and ‘us” can change that if we want to and act together.

    • So wrong: leftists have always been that way. It’s just that now their Trump Derangement Syndrome is causing them to come unglued and show it publicly. People are seeing just how vile the Left is.

    • You need to go back and read transcripts of earlier dinners. Trump did not create this atmosphere, he only manipulated it.

    • You are the perfect example of what Hannah Arendt was talking about. As your “bawdy woman” was laughing about dismembering babies, you sit laughing and blame everything on someone else, therefore all is excused. Just like the Nazis did. You are the perfect example of the excuse of evil Just as Germans said “The Jews were to blame” You laugh as the aborted babies make their way to their gas chamber, and you say “Trump is to blame”

  3. I liked much of what Barron wrote but I think he overstates how many at that event were ok with Wolf. And Sartre was not Nietsche in multiple respects. Sartre refused the Nobel prize because it would prejudice people toward his books by an extraneous award….and at one point he said…” I have seen children starving in the streets of Asia…over against this a book does not act as a counterweight.”. His biography of Jean Genet has many implicitly Christian moments and he argues against the homosexual life as a flight from real connection. Barron there is doing the college course macro summation bit but it doesn’t work herein. And yes I know that Sartre very late in life had a very debauched period….but no one knows but God whether he was called even later in the day …like the good thief who in Mark abuses Christ in the early crucifixion hours.

    • ” no one knows”

      oh good grief. no, but we can reasonably suggest. which is what sane people do. no one knows about Mao or Stalin or Joseph Smith either, but one can reasonably assume…

  4. I know young bishops might be reluctant to cross the Vatican “party line” but Bishop Baron basing his plea for objective morality on the teaching of Francis is simply misguided. Indeed, it is the issue of objective morality that puts Francis apart from his many opponents inside the Church: that and the closely related idea of the autonomy of the conscience. It will be most interesting to see how Bishop Barron reacts to the upcoming Youth Synod if it proves to be the trainwreck that it appears to be. I wonder how Cardinal George would have viewed the Francis papacy.

    • Some bishops are trying to rescue this papacy from the wreck that it is by attributing to it virtues they it doesn’t have.

  5. Thank you, Bishop Baron, for speaking up for our most vulnerable and abused children of God! I know you love to evangelize, and you are one of the best at spreading Christ’ message of love and mercy. But please, we the laity need you also to be our voices and those of the unborn to speak up for the truth about the evils of not just abortion, but that of artificial contraception, and on the sanctity of marriage. God Bless your efforts and the voice He gave you!

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