I think we underrate just how boring identity politics is.

Obviously, it’s an attack on Western civilization, but on a more prosaic level, it’s just very tiresome, because when you’re talking about identity politics, what are you talking about? You. As my wife often points out, there’s nothing more boring than you.

Talking about yourself was the most offensive thing you could do in the world that I grew up in. When my father would check our thank-you notes as children, if you began more than one sentence with the word “I,” he made you rewrite it.

He would always say, “Oh, it’s about you? Really? You gave the present? I don’t think that you did. I think it’s about the person who gave it to you, so why don’t you talk about them?”

Suddenly we have an entire country where our politics, our literature, our art is all based on me talking about me. It is narcissism at scale, and it’s yawn-inducing.

How did this happen so quickly? I was thinking today, it wasn’t even 20 years ago I got fired the first time—one of many times now—and I had little kids in school. I had to make money, so I went on the road giving speeches. My debate partner for years was a guy called James Carville. Do you remember James Carville? Ran the Clinton campaign in ’92. Large, bald, reptilian, demented guy from Louisiana.

I’d go into the room with James Carville, and he used to do this routine about how he was a liberal but liberals were nuts. We’d be speaking to business groups or Wall Street before they all went crazy. They were all sensible, center-right money people, and Carville was representative of the Democratic Party, which at the time they distrusted. This is pre-Obama. And he would always say, “My party’s crazy. Next thing we’re going to have a transgender amendment.”

And people would stop. What the hell could that be? I remember one speech where somebody said: “What’s a transgender amendment?” He goes: “How the hell do I know? Something the liberals are supposed to want.” And everyone laughed like that was so prima facie insane. Now I don’t think there’s a spending bill that doesn’t have a transgender amendment attached to it.

That wasn’t that long ago. I could give you a thousand other examples of how American society has changed almost overnight.

It happened because only one side of the revolution recognized that it was a revolution. The other side had no idea.

One side saw these changes for what they were: Let’s completely change American society, from the bottom to the top. Let’s eliminate any sense of shared culture or history. Let’s atomize the country to the point where there’s no viable opposition to what we’re doing. And once we’ve done that, let’s addle everyone with prescription drugs. Let’s encourage them to be unhealthy, unmarried, and childless, and then we can do whatever we want.

And no one’s aware on the other side—which is not just the right, but the vast bulk of everyone else, which would include a lot of Democrats and just normal people who aren’t at all interested in the revolution. They had no idea what was happening.

It’s important to understand the moment that you’re in. It cuts against the very core of human nature to understand that, because denial is the most powerful of all human instincts.

Twenty-two years ago I was in a plane that crashed in the Middle East, flying from Peshawar, Pakistan, after 9/11. I was going over to cover the Taliban, and we went down in a sand dune in Dubai.

There was an explosion in the cargo hold. The plane starts dropping, and the wing appears to detach, the right wing. The plane is struggling for altitude and going sideways. It’s three in the morning over the Arabian Sea.

Every person on that plane thought we were going to die, very much including me. We finally come in sideways into the sand dune plains. I’m in the first seat—it’s a big double-aisle Airbus—and I just had one thought, which is, “I’m getting off the plane.” It’s totally dark, but you can see burning from the wing, so it’s time to depart. I hop up, and this male flight attendant stands right in front of me and goes, “Sit down! Everything is fine! Everything is fine!”

That’s a verbatim quote. Everything is fine. It was so demonstrably unfine that I can’t even begin to describe how unfine it was. Out of pure panic, I ignored the guy and opened the door, the slide went up, and I jumped into darkness with four other Westerners in the front. Everyone in the back, though, was like, “Oh, everything’s fine.” (The pilots, by the way, went right out the front windows.)

I’ve brooded on this for over 20 years—why did the flight attendant claim everything was fine? I think he just couldn’t metabolize the change. It was so awful he just could not admit what was happening right there in front of everybody. This really bothered me all these years, despite the fact it wound up fine for me.

Then I read the biography of Pyotr Wrangel, who was the leader of the revolutionary White forces during the Russian Revolution—the Civil War, rather, that came after the Revolution. He was a Baltic German living in Russia and a general who worked for the tsar. The First World War ends, and Russia ceases its hostilities with Germany, he comes back to St. Petersburg, and the country’s in complete chaos.

The Bolsheviks have decided that discontent within the army is what we need to inflame; we need to get the army. Get the guns and the people who wield the guns: We need them. The first thing to do is destroy all discipline in the tsar’s army.

Pyotr Wrangel’s just been on the front for four years. He comes back to St. Petersburg, a totally civilized city, a two-hour drive from Helsinki—it’s Europe. He’s wandering through, and soldiers are going crazy in the streets; they’re raping women, stealing at gunpoint. Soldiers in uniform, in a monarchy which had not had any behavior like this, and he, Pyotr Wrangel, just can’t believe it. These are his soldiers; he’s a general. He goes into a movie theater, and everyone in the movie theater is completely absorbed in the movie, as if there’s no revolution happening outside. Wrangel thinks these people are insane.

He takes the train to Moscow: I have to tell the tsar this country’s falling apart. He’s very close to the Romanovs, and he goes into the imperial court—he knows all the relatives and hangers-on. He notices about 80 percent of the women in the Romanov family are wearing red ribbons in solidarity with the Bolsheviks (who wound up, of course, murdering them).

Wait, what? Pyotr Wrangel says: How is it that this country is being devoured by a violent revolution and the people who can afford movie tickets, our middle class, are refusing even to acknowledge that it’s happening, and the ruling class, against whom it is aimed, are sympathizing with it?

I’m reading this, and I couldn’t go to sleep. I was like, wait—I live in that country; that’s happening now. This is a revolution. If someone tells you you’re not allowed to speak, if someone tells you your children are not your children, these are not ideological differences. This is not, “Oh, I prefer this capital gains rate.” These are totalitarian measures that treat you as nonhuman. Human beings, free citizens, get to say what they think. Slaves must be quiet. That’s the distinction. It precedes the First Amendment. As our founding documents make clear, these are natural rights that distinguish the citizen from the slave.

We should begin to see this for what it is, which is a very big deal on which it all depends—not just our republic, but your family.

I’m not calling for stockpiling ammo, though I don’t know when anyone went broke doing that. (Maybe some have, but they’ll get it back in the end; it’s a good investment.) What I’m calling for is approaching this moment with the seriousness that it both deserves and requires. Here’s how I think we should respond.

First, by taking stock of ourselves. Are we actually living lives that prepare us for whatever is coming next?

I do think this is a spiritual battle. When you’re honest, you are proud of yourself. When you’re honest, you are strong. When you lie, you become weak. Why do you lie? Because you’re hiding something—because you believe that if the people around you knew what you really thought or said or did, they would think less of you. That diminishes you. Your power ebbs when you lie. Tell the truth. Live like a decent person.

It sounds so radical, but it’s not.

Gather your family to you in a real way. If you’ve got a dispute with a sibling, a parent, a child, or the person who shares your bed, do your best to make it better. Spend less time on Twitter. Spend more time talking to your wife. Strengthen the core, and the core is your family. It’s the orbit right around you.

I believe very strongly in a concentric-circle theory of love, which is that when you love people—and you help them either with your time, your empathy, your advice, or your money—it should begin at the closest level to you. I’m not sending a single dollar for mosquito nets in Congo until my wife is happy with me. And I’m not going to worry about “the children” until my four children are in a good place.

Think of yourself—not in an egotistical way, but in a very practical way. It all radiates out from you. Make sure that your up-close relationships are good. Spend all your time on that until they are. In so doing, you become stronger; your family becomes stronger. (I’m using “family” in a very loose sense because a lot of people at this point—and this is a product of policy, intentional—don’t have nuclear families.)

Intelligence is not the measure of your moral value, and it’s also not a predictive measure of your effectiveness. I’ll tell you what is: bravery. The person who’s brave wins.

A real relationship is when you tell the truth about yourself. That’s the acid test. Am I willing to admit who I really am?

That’s the first thing. Take stock of your own life. Try to be virtuous. Live in a way that you’re proud of. The prouder you are of it, the less they’re going to mess with you.

The second thing is to be brave. The people I admire are not the smartest. (Some of them are—I think most of my friends are smart, all my kids are smart, my wife’s smart . . . and my dogs are stupid.) But intelligence is not the measure of your moral value, and it’s also not a predictive measure of your effectiveness. I’ll tell you what is: bravery. The person who’s brave wins.

The key to being brave is brooding about death. All anxiety and all fear stem from the most basic of all fears, which is the fear of death, which is inborn. You feel it from the moment you arrive.

I grew up in a place called La Jolla, California, which had a lot going for it—it is beautiful. But in retrospect the one thing that made it a bad place to grow up is there was only one taboo in La Jolla—and in all kinds of affluent towns like La Jolla—which is death. It’s the one thing you could not talk about. People had freaky sex situations in La Jolla; nothing was judged. The one thing you couldn’t do was talk about dying or any of its attendant symptoms like aging. If you got old enough, and your age was visible, you had to go to Palm Springs. It was our equivalent of putting you on the ice floe, like the Inuit do.

As a result of that, there’s a crazy amount of anxiety because no one can acknowledge the core truth of life, which is that it ends. Any attempt to talk about this or engage in a religious discussion, which by definition implies death and powerlessness, was rejected as repulsive. And it made them cowards. So as long as you’re afraid of death, you’re not going to be very effective fighting against people who really are serving a cause they believe is larger than themselves.

I would make two arguments on behalf of not being afraid of death. The first is just an obvious mechanistic argument that I think everyone, regardless of religious faith, can understand, which is that you’re going to die anyway, and it’s going to be horrible.

One of the greatest essays I’ve ever read was by George Orwell, written as part of a book called Down and Out in Paris and London. He winds up in a hospital in Paris in the ’30s during the Depression with tuberculosis. George Orwell was a man of famous and proven physical courage. Shot in the throat by a sniper during the Spanish Civil War and didn’t mention it in his diary! This is a man who had gone to Eaton in 1913, which was rough in the way that the British upper classes used to raise their boys—in a martial way.

He winds up in this hospital for the indigent, and he’s in a huge bay filled with metal cots, and people around him are dying. But they’re not dying of anything interesting. They haven’t been shot in the throat by a sniper. They’re dying of diarrhea and the flu. He describes how horrible it is, and he has this line. He says there’s so many tears shed for guys who died during the Great War, going over the top of the trench and getting mowed down by a .50 caliber, and that’s very sad, but that’s nothing compared to the way the people around me are dying.

It’s going to be bad no matter what. You might as well die with your shoes on doing something you believe in. That was Orwell’s conclusion.

In the end, he died of tuberculosis, alone. None of us get to choose, but we can have a mindset that frees us from anxiety over something that we can’t change, and at the very best we can imbue it with meaning. We’re going to die. Should it mean something? Should our life mean something? That’s the only choice we get to make. The rest of it is out of our hands.

The second point I would make is something that I’ve come to very slowly over many years. All the religion stuff? It’s basically true. The last 80 years in the Anglosphere and Western Europe is the only civilization in history that has proceeded on any other assumption but “there is a god.”

We are gods—that’s a brand-new thing, and it turns out it doesn’t work. There was something about the atomic bomb going off, in my opinion, that completely changed people’s assumptions. That display of godlike power gave people the false impression that they were gods. Whatever it was, postwar our assumptions about the universe changed.

This is a brand-new world that we live in. Not just secular, but a civilization whose core assumption omits the possibility that we’re not the most powerful force in the universe. Are we right? Or is every other human being who’s ever lived right? I’m thinking the overwhelming evidence lands on “There is a god, and this is not the end.” Nobody’s ever not thought that.

So if you’re willing to roll the dice on that, considering you’re going to die anyway, there’s really nothing to be afraid of other than cowardice. Living as a slave, hating yourself, being held in contempt by those closest to you, and living without purpose are the things to fear.

Take heart: Your bravery is scarier to the other side than any weapon you could marshal. They melt in the face of it. They’ve only advanced this quickly because they’ve met no resistance at all.

This essay is adapted from remarks delivered at the 70th anniversary gala of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.