Twitter recently suspended my account for daring to question its decision not to penalize the man who sent me a death threat. I was then contacted privately by a friend who asked why certain conservatives weren’t coming to my defense. This person knows that I once worked for a large think tank in Washington, D.C., and that I currently work for a newspaper.
The answer is simple: I willingly left a specific “Ring” years ago, and those who leave the Ring are not afforded its support.
C.S. Lewis explains this phenomenon well in his classic speech to young university students:
“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. This desire, in one of its forms, has indeed had ample justice done to it in literature. I mean, in the form of snobbery. Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hagridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that “Society,” in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings and snobbery, therefore, only one form of the longing to be inside.
People who believe themselves to be free, and indeed are free, from snobbery, and who read satires on snobbery with tranquil superiority, may be devoured by the desire in another form. It may be the very intensity of their desire to enter some quite different Ring which renders them immune from the allurements of high life. An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communist côterie. Poor man — it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants; it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we — we four or five all huddled beside this stove — are the people who know. …
The lust for the esoteric, the longing to be inside, take many forms which are not easily recognizable as Ambition. We hope, no doubt, for tangible profits from every Inner Ring we penetrate: power, money, liberty to break rules, avoidance of routine duties, evasion of discipline. But all these would not satisfy us if we did not get in addition the delicious sense of secret intimacy. …
Of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. …
The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.” — C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring.
Regular readers know that I do not name drop. I think it’s tawdry and weird and something people use as a crutch when they’re incapable of formulating sound arguments. However, I will say this: Once I left the employment of a well-known think tank, there were individuals who treated me like a ghost overnight.
The kind of people who populate Washington, D.C. are very much like a well-connected man I once got into an argument with while working near the Capitol. He said to me: “Do you know who I am? I’m the maître d’ of the conservative movement.” My skin crawled. I didn’t care who he was — he was wrong — and I’d rather choose the hard right than the easy wrong.
The kind of man who calls himself the “maître d’ of the conservative movement” is very much the kind of man who cares about the Inner Ring that C.S. Lewis covers in great detail. He may be conservative, but he cares much more about himself and his career than he does about the principles he espouses in front of large crowds or on cable news shows.
Perhaps the most recent example of a larger Ring that actually gained traction on social media was Valerie Jarrett’s appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” President Obama’s top adviser went around the table giving pundits hugs and kisses, with Joe Scarborough saying “Valerie, come give me a hug!” before cutting to a commercial break.
Washington D.C. is an incestuous place, where reporters, pundits, politicians, academics and bureaucrats all go to the same parties over … and over … and over … and over. It’s the kind of place where you can go to dinner with someone and the person sitting across the table can say with a straight face that they’re “kind of a big deal.” I know because it happened to me.
As C.S. Lewis notes, no one is immune from the desire to be a part of some Inner Ring. The difference between Washington, D.C. and other places, however, is that the capital’s rings lure people who seek power and influence. Very smart, very shrewd individuals are attracted to Washington, which means that they are capable of advanced levels of evil.
Who is more evil: the dumb fool who punches you in the face and steals your wallet because he knows of no other way to vent frustration over his shortcomings, or the intelligent man who methodically finds ways to trample your soul and deny your god-given rights — all while convincing you that he’s really your best friend?
All men are capable of great good or great evil, but my point is that the concentration of highly-educated individuals in the nation’s capital, who are obsessed with power, also means that the city possesses a unique kind of evil.
If you get a chance, then I highly suggest reading “The Inner Ring,” by C.S. Lewis. If I had read it years ago, then I would have hopped on a happier path ahead of schedule. No matter what city or town you live in, it’s worth your time.