I assume you had a life before we met

Filled with love, pain, victories, and defeats

But for me your story began when I entered into it

A transient visitor of your present

Your past existed solely in stories, your future in dreams

It’s alluring to assume that your life became frozen in time when I left, a cross-section of a whole calcified into my comfortable solipsism


I know now you had a life after that insular present

Filled with more pain, your victories warped to accommodate it

My solipsism violently denied


You bore your cross while my back was turned

Not our sins, but mankind’s shame, weighed heavy on your shoulders

Stumbling toward your needless crucifixion


The news of your passing is no gospel

A martyr without a cause, a death without passion

Your suffering brings no redemption; we are not yet saved

We continue to drift along without you, oblivious

Your glory exists only in the memory of the names once held by statistics


In gratitude for that memory,

RIP Vir Thongpheng, February 28, 1979 – April 6, 2023

The Left often gets labeled as the sentimental side of the political spectrum. They are the bleeding hearts, after all – shedding tears over every little injustice, naïve about the realities of the world. The Left doesn’t even really deny this, either. They will often use far-off injustices to try to shame the Right, attempting to claim an emotional universality. It’s normal to weep over the corpses of strangers on the other side of the planet, and if the world doesn’t weep with you, it’s because there just isn’t enough empathy and compassion. If the world cared a teeny bit more, then we would have that world peace that everyone keeps talking about. So really, it’s unanimous – the Left is too emotional, and the Right isn’t emotional enough. Bipartisan agreement means it must be true, right?

Karl Rove, the Deputy Chief of Staff during the Bush Jr. years and one of the architects of the Iraq war, famously quipped, “Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said, We will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said, We must understand our enemies.” Now, it might be argued that the liberals here are more emotional because they are presumably caring about the terrorists and want a more compassionate response, whereas the badass conservatives are leaping into action to solve the problem. But like… even on its face, the liberals are being painted here as the more cautious and cerebral of the two groups, no? Regardless of the motivation, they want to spend some time thinking on it. The impulsive action is in most other cases derided as the more emotional of the two actions described by Rove. Our gut reaction is the emotional reaction, and particularly in heated situations, the more rational thing to do is slow down, breathe, and try to understand the situation before saying or doing anything.

Pictured: a typical leftist bear throwing a tantrum

The Right does this often. Don’t try to understand why crime happens, be tough on crime! Don’t bother figuring out the root causes of addiction, force the addict into treatment! The more cynical leftist might argue that the Right is suggesting these paths after Machiavellian deliberation, recognizing that capitalism requires an under-class, and freeing people from the bondage of trauma and poverty would free up the working class more broadly, lowering the profit margins of the wealthy. I think the simpler and more likely answer is that the Right is being driven by its emotions, and coming up with action movie policies based on horror movie fears. Crime is scary! Addicts are scary! We need to get rid of them fast before they get us! While it may appear that the Right is often angry at these things they’re actively choosing not to understand (anger obviously doesn’t count as an emotion, but more on that later), that anger is an obvious mask for the underlying fear of the bogeyman driving their political agenda.

Frankly, that is probably enough evidence that the Right is more emotional than the Left, but it actually goes much deeper than that. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who helped found the Moral Foundation Theory, which articulates that human beings have moral beliefs embedded in us that drive our moral perspectives. They are care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. While the list fluctuates, we’ll stick with this version. According to Haidt, the Left prioritizes care/harm and fairness/cheating to the detriment of the others while the Right will accept them all about equally. We’re not going to explore the validity of Moral Foundation Theory today, but I think it’s safe enough to accept it on its own terms for our purposes in this article. The Right has a wider degree of moral options than the Left.

In order for this to be moral, she needs to be loyal to him as the patriarch of the family, otherwise this image is a sinful mess.

The thing about morals though, is that they’re emotionally driven. We are angry at injustice. We feel contempt for the socially disruptive. We are disgusted by the flagrant. There is no pool of objective morality that we draw from whenever we see some moral violation; we have an emotional response that we then define as moral based on our cultural upbringing. That’s how even though morality can shift quite radically across cultures, there is enough truth to the Moral Foundations Theory that some version of each appear pretty abundantly across the world – again, we’re not getting into the problems of the theory, and generalities are enough for today. All humans have basically the same emotions; therefore, all humans have basically the same bases for their morality (however it may develop within a local framework). The emotions line up quite nicely: love with care, fear/anger at harm, attachment with loyalty, indignation at cheating, reverence for authority, and disgust at degradation. Haidt is actually quite explicit in this as he develops the theory.

So if morals are emotionally driven, and the Right is driven by a wider set of morals, then the Right is inherently driven more by emotion. This makes a lot of sense. If you consider all the attempts to justify the existence of the LGBT community by the Left using facts and logic, they very rarely make any kind of impact on the Right. That’s because it’s not facts or logic driving the Right’s perspective: it’s disgust. They see LGBT people as degrading society. Same with drugs, same with sex work; pretty much all the things we might consider vice, the Right thinks is gross. That’s why they don’t want to find ways to live with these things, like through tolerance or harm reduction, they just want to get rid of them. If you saw a spider next to your plate at dinner time, you wouldn’t want to find a way to live harmoniously with that spider while you ate your meal, you would need to get rid of it. That’s the attitude the Right takes toward human beings with lifestyles alien to their own. It’s disgust. It’s emotional. It’s not driven by reason.

Maybe it would be more appealing if we knew for a fact that the spider identified as the gender it was assigned at birth

Same thing with authority. The Left isn’t actually against the idea of authority. Mikhail Bakunin, one of the founders of modern anarchism and thus not a huge proponent of authority as it is traditionally understood, said, “When it is a question of boots, I refer the matter to the authority of the cobbler; when it is a question of houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For each special area of knowledge I speak to the appropriate expert. But I allow neither the cobbler nor the architect nor the scientist to impose upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and verification.” It’s the difference between Anthony Fauci and Donald Trump during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Americans on the Left listened to Fauci because he had decades of experience in public health and immunology. Fauci himself as a person was irrelevant – it could have been anyone saying what he was saying; the experience and expertise were what mattered. The Right listened to Donald Trump because he was their leader, a moral trait he leaned into hard. Whenever he got anything wrong, it was forgiven because emotional reverence supersedes worldly concerns. Not to say that Anthony Fauci is infallible, or that the experts can’t get it wrong, it’s just that the motivation for the Left to respect an authority isn’t as emotionally driven as it is for the Right. The Left doesn’t have the same moral component to their respect for authority, therefore they also lack the emotional component.

So, if the Right is far and away more emotional than the Left, why does the myth of their stoic resolve win in almost every instance? Why is there bipartisan agreement that the Left is a bunch of whiny babies? I don’t have a concrete answer, but my personal theory is that emotions have a branding problem. When we think of emotions, we think of a woman crying or throwing a hissy fit. We don’t think of a manly anger (likely masking a fear), or a righteous indignation, or a social disgust – we think of girly girls who can’t handle a hard reality. The perceived stoicism of the Right is driven by essentially an anti-feminist hyper-masculinity that demands a numbness to the things the Left might care about. When men get angry enough to punch a wall, that’s not being emotional – that’s being tough. When the Right thinks two dudes holding hands is gross, that’s not emotional, that’s Godly. The Right can’t be emotional because emotions are for girls, and the Left has already claimed feminism. The Left embraces this divide because it’s like, “Heck yeah! Emotions! We’re girly feminists who cry sometimes and that’s empowering!”

This must be that Critical Race Theory that everyone keeps talking about

So how do we rectify a situation where the political ideology that is actually the more rational denies that categorization in favour of leaning into the Bleeding Heart narrative? How do we convince another political ideology that has severed itself from any perception of emotional “weakness” that most of its talking points are actually based on those same emotions they’re trying to hide from? We need to be honest about our emotions, and have a greater understanding of how emotions are infused into many areas of our lives that we might not fully understand. And also, that it’s okay to have emotions! You can think gay sex is gross – I promise you, you won’t be canceled. Just don’t have gay sex! It’s easier than you think! But it becomes a lot harder to justify moral impositions on society when we know that those morals are only grounded in our wholly subjective emotional responses. If I think salmon is gross, how monstrous would I be to make sure no one is ever allowed to eat salmon again? As for the bizarre hypocrisy of the Left? I dunno man, the Left is just weird.

The Wire came out during a time when television producers realized that they could make shows that were actually good in a meaningful way. The Sopranos sparked a golden age of television, and The Wire was hot on its heels to become arguably the best television show of all time.

I recently rewatched the series from start to finish, and genuinely found it better the second time. The slowness of season two was more compelling because I saw it in a wider context than I had my first time through. Season five is still hot garbage, but the overarching narrative throughout the show more than makes up for it.

The final season of The Sopranos didn’t exactly do much better. I’m still waiting for the Golden Age of Series Finales.

What I found compelling this time around was being reintroduced to Jimmy McNulty. The first time I watched the show, I was convinced that Jimmy was the main protagonist of the series. He’s not killed off, he’s charming and handsome, his character is explored in detail, and he has that infallibility in his detective work that is common across all cop show protagonists – they always catch the bad guy due to their unfailing ingenuity, even if the Bosses do everything they can to get in the way.

The Wire is special because there are no clear “good guys” and “bad guys” in the show. The most sympathetic characters are indeed those involved directly in the drug trade; this could be because they are children which naturally plays to our sympathies, but it can be said more generally that the creative team goes to great lengths to humanize a demographic that is almost unanimously depicted as one-dimensionally violent or evil in every other piece of media. The drug dealer exists as an evil scourge plaguing our world, but in The Wire, D’Angelo Barksdale is far more appealing and likeable than any other character portrayed in season one – except for maybe Bubbles.

One of the few redeemable qualities of season five

So in a show without clear heroes and villains, how can I say that Jimmy McNulty is the villain? Particularly when he’s on the side of police, no less; the side that doesn’t overtly use murder to negotiate their business dealings. I am definitely not saying that Jimmy is the villain because of his infidelity or even his show-polluting atrociousness in season five. That’s the flavour to his character and is irrelevant to his villainy.

Jimmy McNulty is the show’s villain because in his heart of hearts he wants the War On Drugs to continue. He might want it to be fought with more resources and to go after the generals instead of the soldiers, but ultimately, he is so passionately committed to the War On Drugs that the show portrays it as his literal vice. Policing is Jimmy’s drug; he is addicted to the War On Drugs. We are sucked into enabling his addiction because of his charisma and charm, and believe along with him that maybe we just need an extra few days on the wire, and drug crime will be eliminated forever. We’ll shut down Avon Barksdale; we’ll shut down Marlo Stanfield; these are the outcomes we cheer for. They don’t get to win!

The Wire is about the institutions of Baltimore, and in this depiction, speaks about the institutions of America more broadly. We see quite clearly how these institutions function only to perpetuate themselves – through policing stats, through political ambition, through an educational system detached from the realities of the children it is ostensibly there to educate. All of them function in ignorance of the actual problems because all of them are hyper-focused on keeping their heads above the water in an unsustainable status quo. The reality that they all seem to ignore is the reality created by the War On Drugs. This ideology manifests this problematic reality that all of these institutions do their best to dance around because denouncing the actual problem would mean confronting the status quo – likely ending their career.

Or being condemned to the “sympathetic” villainy of modern Marvel movies.

In season three, we see two approaches to dealing with the actual problems of the War On Drugs. The first is put forward by Major Bunny Colvin who creates safe zones where drugs can be sold without police interference. It is a very clear indictment of the pointlessness of the War On Drugs. What is less clear, but equally compelling, is the equivalent mirror being put forward by Stringer Bell. Bell and Prop Joe put together a co-op to try a new form of drug dealing – one closer akin to a normal business than to the “gangster shit” that dominates the Game in most other circumstances. They hold votes, they negotiate territory, they resolve differences diplomatically – all in an attempt to distance themselves from the widely acknowledged problems of illegal drugs: murders, insecurity, unpredictability, and police interference. Both factions want a better way to accommodate the hard reality that drugs will never go away.

Jimmy is mostly ambivalent to Colvin’s experiment. He looks more favourably at fucking over the Bosses than he is at what Colvin is actually trying to accomplish, and in no way sees the connection to what Bell is trying to do. He even resists focusing on the target of Major Crimes who is actively killing people, preferring to fixate on Stringer Bell because he knows that’s where the War belongs. Bell sees the wisdom of what Colvin is trying, and is explicit in this when he comes to Colvin at the end of the season to betray Avon. They both are trying to find a way to get around the dysfunctional status quo. It can be just a business as much as any other; the bodies are created by the War.

All the bodies.

The second nice thing I’ll say about season five is that it showcases the Sisyphean meaninglessness of the War On Drugs. The police win. Marlo and Avon are arrested; their gangs dispersed. But we see as the season ends that Michael turns into the new Omar, that Kima becomes the new Jimmy, Carver becomes the new Daniels, and Duquan becomes the new Bubbles. The pawns have already been replaced so often throughout the show that the bottomless pit from whence they come has already been well-established. The boulder goes up the mountain once again, and the War continues – and for what? A few people got promoted, and many more died. Jimmy’s belief that policing ought to confront the War On Drugs more effectively is only a means of finding a more efficient way of getting the boulder up the mountain.

The War On Drugs is the villain of The Wire. The champions that we’re used to seeing from other cop shows are seen here perpetuating it in all its pointless glory. There cannot be any heroes because all of the characters are produced by a villainous system. There are only survivors, mercenaries, and profiteers. The only reasonable heroics would be to challenge that system itself, and under that rubric, ironically it is Stringer Bell who ends up on a pedestal higher than Jimmy McNulty.