“The world began to crumble,” wrote Ricky Gervais, “when feelings started overruling facts.”

This was on Twitter, of course, so we are not getting deep historical analysis, here. The point of the statement is not, really, to define the precise turning point towards our civilization’s decline. It was more rhetorical, a way of asserting objectivity as a foundational issue for civilized life. Further, Gervais (@rickygervais) is a comedian, so no matter how earnest he may be in expressing this thought, a reasonable person might have cause to wonder: maybe he was trolling. You know, to get a bite from an ideologue, thus setting up a joke.

Simon Jenkins (@SimonJenkins1) bit. “So are you like, a full-on right winger now?” Jenkins tweeted on the same day, August 5. “Because you must know the kinds of people this phrasing aligns you with.”

To be generous, we should identify the key to his inquiry in that word “phrasing.” Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) likes to say “facts don’t care about your feelings.” That is his phrasing of the idea. And I have heard others of an alleged rightwing viewpoint say similar things. With similar phrasings. So that is probably what triggered Mr. Jenkins. How awful of Gervais to have reasserted the hoary fact/value dichotomy in a Shapirovian way . . . and not like this: “The world began to crumble when our sense of reality was determined by axiological preferences rather than ontic persistence.” 

Of course Gervais would say no such thing. He’s a stand-up philosopher, not an academic one.

In any case, queried by Jenkins as to his disloyalty to leftist buzzwords and bugaboos, Gervais snapped back:

“I’m also a vegetarian. You know, like Hitler.”

Spot on. Hilarious. 

And Gervais’s retort got to the heart of where Jenkins went wrong — and where the left generally goes wrong.

Jenkins noticed that it is not uncommon to challenge leftists, these days, with the fact/value distinction in terms of fact/feeling, and when Gervais made the same critique without an explicit target, Jenkins assumed that Gervais was making an anti-leftist point. Or, much the same thing, he was worried that Gervais had succumbed to the temptation to join The Dark Side of the Force.

Gervais went on to remind his Twitter followers that he has opposed people typically thought of as “on the right” for running afoul of fact/feeling dichotomy. He is a notorious atheist, for example, and uses the lack of evidence for a Deity, and the scads of facts in support of evolution, as “facts” that trump religious folks’ hankerings — feelings, preferences — for God. 

Now, Gervais did slightly err in his longer response. Jenkins did ask a question, not conclude. But that mistake is no biggie, since even the suspicion of right-wingedness was lame. What Mr. Jenkins exhibits is hyper-sensitivity to his ideology, loyalty to his ideological group, which can be seen in a deep suspicion of anyone who won’t perform the precise pronunciations of his tribe’s shibboleths, or who dares echo the shibboleths of the other side.

It is pathetic.

It is typical of the marginalizer mindset, in which managing who is and is not in the in-group is always of paramount interest. More, anyway, than asserting a principle to live by.

For surely the principle of deciding questions of fact on the basis of reason and evidence rather than one’s fantasies and mental comfort is not partisan. I remember when anyone could make that appeal.

But because of a “phrasing,” one leftist derailed his mind.

This little exchange typifies how bad things are getting, culturally. Sure. But it is funny, how witless left-moralists have become. They cannot see the funny (and thus have ruined late-night chat shows) because they are picking at moral purity as defined not by their religion but by their political ideology. They cannot let themselves have a moraline-free moment — just the sort of stance I used to see among cultural conservatives in my youth. In this case, a follower of a comedian saw a principle in terms of party or ideological tribe rather than in epistemic terms. He immediately became defensive — thus adding weight to the common critique of modern leftism, that it is plagued by mushy, touchy-feely sentiment and soft-mindedness.

For his part, Mr. Jenkins was reflective about his “recent encounter” with Gervais. What is it, he asks, about dealing with famous people on Twitter? “Post something, get asked about it, then instead of engaging, let your droves of flying monkeys post waves of snarky gifs in your honor. A really one-sided platform.”

Well, it is a strange platform. I do not much care for it. (I think this blog automatically sends notices to my @wirkman Twitter account, though.) It is no place to engage in deep philosophical discussions.

But Jenkins, in this case, did not find himself unfairly snarked at, flying monkeys or no. At least by Gervais, whose actual engagement was all the engagement Jenkins’ query required.

I merely note it in passing. In case someone somewhere was at all confused about it. And also to put a name to a not uncommon skirmish in the culture wars.