“History assures us that civilizations decay quite leisurely,” Will and Ariel Durant wrote in 1968’s “The Lessons of History.” Even as ancient Greece and Rome faced serious “moral weakening” and societal decay, for instance, both continued to produce “masterpieces of literature and art” and a steady flow of “great statesmen, philosophers, poets, and artists” for hundreds of years.
“May we take as long to fall,” the Durants exhort in their book, “as Imperial Rome!”
If the couple were alive today, one wonders if they could have retained their trademark pluck. On college campuses across America, an army of leftist snowflakes — a generation long told they’re special, fragile, and never, ever wrong — is on the march, aiming to squelch any threatening idea that “triggers” uncomfortable thoughts.
The lunacy of the Left seems to know no bounds. This shrinking violet needs a 'safe space' to hide from equity feminist Christina Hoff Sommers (via Legal Insurrection):
The man is a dangerous fool. A clear recent instance of his folly is his preposterous assertion that “Today, there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change.” The claim is beneath refutation. But what is it a symptom of? That truth is not a leftist value, or that lefties are very poor at threat assessment? Or both? Or both and some third thing?
As for the dangerousness of the feckless incompetent, Kirsten Powers exposes his unconcern for the slaughter of Christians by radical Muslims.
The man was elected twice! How long can we last with an electorate of fools?
Another indication thereof being the increasing number of well-placed and influential individuals, some of them well-meaning, who now believe that it is morally justifiable to use state power to violate the consciences of individuals by forcing them to do that to which they are morally opposed on grounds that are well-articulated, thoroughly reasoned, and supported by distinguished traditions and authorities.
I'm with Gray. This July will be the 50th anniversary of Barry Maguire's Eve of Destruction. It has been a long and lucky half-century eve, and by chance, if not by divine providence, the morning of destruction has not yet dawned with the light of man-made suns. Now take a cold look at the state of the world and try to convince yourself that we are making moral progress and that war and violence and ignorance and hatred and delusion are on the decline. I won't recite the litany that each of you, if intellectually honest, can recite for himself.
The 'progressive' doesn't believe in God, he believes in Man. But right here is the mistake. For there is no Man, there are only human beings at war with one another and with themselves. We are divided, divisive, and duplicitous creatures. We are in the dark mentally, morally, and spiritually. The Enlightenment spoke piously of reason, but the light it casts is flickering and inconclusive and its deliverances, though not to be contemned, are easily suborned by individual passions and group tribalisms. And just as it is certain that there is no Man, it may doubted that there is any such thing as Reason. Whose reason? There are two points here. The first is that reason is infirm even on the assumption that there is such a universal faculty. The second, more radical point, one that I do not endorse but merely entertain, is that there may be no such universal faculty.
The 'progressive' refuses to face reality, preferring a foolish faith in a utopian future that cannot possibly be brought about by human collective effort. As Heidegger said in his Spiegel interview, Nur ein Gott kann uns retten. "Only a God can save us."
You say God does not exist? That may be so. But the present question is not whether or not God exists, but whether belief in Man makes any sense and can substitute for belief in God. I say it doesn't and can’t, that it is a sorry substitute if not outright delusional. We need help that we cannot provide for ourselves, either individually or collectively. The failure to grasp this is of the essence of the delusional Left, which, refusing the tutelage of tradition and experience, goes off half-cocked with schemes that in the recent past have employed murderous means for an end that never materialized. Communist governments murdered an estimated 100 million in the 20th century alone. That says something about the Left and also about government. What is says about the latter is at least this much: governments are not by nature benevolent. It may be that man is by nature zoon politikon, as Aristotle thought: a political animal. But what may be true of man cannot be true of the polis.
Op-ed commentary at The New York Times is abominably bad. But there are a couple or three exceptions, one of which is the work of Ross Douthat. This from For Poorer or Richer:
But the basic point is this: In a substantially poorer American past with a much thinner safety net, lower-income Americans found a way to cultivate monogamy, fidelity, sobriety and thrift to an extent that they have not in our richer, higher-spending present.
So however much money matters, something else is clearly going on.
The post-1960s cultural revolution isn’t the only possible “something else.” But when you have a cultural earthquake that makes society dramatically more permissive and you subsequently get dramatic social fragmentation among vulnerable populations, denying that there is any connection looks a lot like denying the nose in front of your face.
But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.
This judgment would echo Leonard Cohen:
Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure /
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.
And without dismissing money’s impact on the social fabric, it would raise the possibility that what’s on those channels sometimes matters more.
A recent article bears the title, "The vast right-wing conspiracy is still real. Also, the media is really stupid." The first sentence reads, "Let me start by admitting, upfront, how truly fucking boring I find the Hillary Clinton e-mail story."
I stopped right there.
Suppose Mrs. Clinton broke no law. Her imprudence alone in conducting official business while Secretary of State using a private e-mail server is a strong argument against her. It smacks of an imprudence born of arrogance and of a sense of high entitlement as if nothing she does nor how she appears can impede her progress to her rightful place. If anyone understands that the world runs on appearances, it is the politician. What level of chutzpah does it then bespeak that she appears not to care that people find out what she must know they will find out?
UPDATE (3/11): Roundup of reactions to Hillary's press conference yesterday. The imperiousness of the lady may contribute to her undoing. That, and her naked ambition. With apologies to William Shakespeare, "Yon Hillary hath a lean and hungry look . . . ." She lusts after the title Hillaria Imperatrix. She would push further the executive overreach of Obama's imperial presidency.
But conservatives beware. Her egregious blunders if not illegalities may not sink her. Nor the vacuousness of her rhetoric. Nor the deviousness of her stealth leftism. The feckless Obama was elected and elected twice. Hillary is not to be discounted. Her base is large and will support her no matter what she does. The next election is not to be sat out. Politics is a practical business; it is always about the lesser or least of evils.
But the West is in grave danger. Attacked from without, she is also collapsing from within under the weight of her own decadence. Can we and it survive? The short answer is that, while we are running on fumes, they are rich and voluminous and long-lasting. It will take some time before they and we peter out. So there is still time to take action. Decline is not inevitable. But do we have the will?
Too many people use the word 'stuff' nowadays. I was brought up to believe that it is a piece of slang best avoided in all but the most informal of contexts. So when I hear a good scholar make mention of all the 'stuff' he has published on this topic or that, I wonder how long before he starts using 'crap' instead of 'stuff.' "You know, Bill, I've published a lot of crap on anaphora; I think you'll find it excellent." But why stop with 'crap'? "Professor Zeitlich has published a fine piece of shit in Nous on temporal indexicals. Have you read it?"
If you ask me to read your 'stuff,' I may wonder whether you take it seriously and whether I should. But if you ask me to read your work, then I am more likely to take you seriously and give your work my attention. Why use 'stuff' when 'work' is available? Do you use 'stuff' so as not to appear stuffy? Or because you have a need for acceptance among the unlettered? But why would you want such acceptance? Note that when 'stuff' is used interchangeably with 'work,' the former term does not acquire the seriousness of the latter, but vice versa: 'stuff' retains its low connotation and 'work' drops out. The net result is linguistic decline and an uptick in 'crudification,' to use an ugly word for an ugly thing.
No doubt there is phony formality. But that is no reason to elide the distinction between the informal and the formal. A related topic is phony informality. An example of the latter is false intimacy, as when people people address complete strangers using their first names. This is offensive, because the addresser is seeking to enjoy the advantages of intimacy (e.g., entering into one's trust) without paying the price.
'Ass' is another word gaining a currency that is already excessive. One wonders how far it will go. Will 'ass' become an all-purpose synecdoche? Run your ass off, work your ass to the bone, get your ass out of here . . . ask a girl's father for her ass in marriage? In the expression, 'piece of ass' the reference is not to the buttocks proper, but to an adjoining area. 'Ass' appears subject to a peculiar semantic spread. It can come to mean almost anything, as in 'haul ass,' which means to travel at a high rate of speed. I don't imagine that if one were hauling donkeys one could make very good time. So how on earth did this expression arise? (I had teenage friends who could not refer to a U-Haul trailer except as a U-Haul Ass trailer.)
Or consider that to have one's 'ass in a sling' is to be sad or dejected. Here, 'ass' extends even unto a person's mood. Robert Hendrickson (Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 36) suggests that 'ass in a sling' is an extension of 'arm in a sling.' May be, but how does that get us from the buttocks to a mental state? I was disappointed to find a lacuna where Hendrickson should have had an entry on 'haul ass.'
'Ass' seems especially out of place in scholarly journals unless the reference is to some such donkey as Buridan's ass, or some such bridge as the pons asinorum, 'bridge of asses.' The distinguished philosopher Richard M. Gale, in a piece in Philo (Spring-Summer 2003, p. 132) in which he responds to critics, says near the outset that ". . . my aim is not to cover my ass. . . ." Well, I'm glad to hear it, but perhaps he should also tell us that he has no intention of 'sucking up' to his critics either.
In On the Nature and Existence of God (1991), Gale wonders why anyone would "screw around" with the cosmological argument if Kant is right that it depends on the ontological argument. The problem here is not just that 'screw around' is slang, or that it has a sexual connotation, but that it is totally inappropriate in the context of a discussion of the existence/nonexistence of God. The latter is no joking matter, no mere plaything of donnish Spielerei. If God exists, everything is different; ditto if God does not exist. The nonexistence of God is not like the nonexistence of an angry unicorn on the far side of the moon, or the nonexistence of Russell's celestial teapot. As Nietzsche appreciated (Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, sec. 27), the death of God is the death of truth. But to prove that Nietzsche was right about this would require a long article or a short book. One nice thing about a blog post is that one can just stop when the going gets tough by pleading the inherent constraints of the genre. Which is what I will now do.
Douglas Murray's article from The Spectator is so good I have reproduced the whole of it. (HT: Joel Hunter) Study the article. Pass it on. If you live in the West and enjoy its freedoms and liberties, then you have a moral obligation to do your bit in defense of it and them. People have shed blood in defense of these freedoms and liberties and you are too lazy to inform yourself about these matters and to speak out? In particular, you must speak out against the mendacity of Obama and his underlings who refuse to refer to Muslim terrorism as perpetrated by Muslims acting from (what they take to be) Islamic beliefs and which are, the experts tell me, really Islamic beliefs.
The only weak point I find in Murray's piece on a quick reading is the author's claim that no religion is peaceful. A religion is not the same as its adherents. It is certainly true that no religion is such that all of its adherents are peaceful. But aren't Buddhism and Christianity in their doctrines and approved practices peaceful in stark contrast to Islam and its doctrines and approved practices?
It occurs to me that there may be a second weak point. The author says nothing about the need to examine immigration policies. Shouldn't we be having a 'conversation' about this? Liberals love 'conversations' about this, that, and the other thing. Do you liberals really believe in free inquiry and open debate? Prove it!
UPDATE, 1:45 PM. This just in from Joel Hunter:
1. "‘Noble’ or not, this lie is a mistake. [. . .] Thirdly, because it takes any heat off Muslims to deal with the bad traditions in their own religion."
I do not agree. While public denunciations from Muslim leaders to the larger world may be muted, qualified, or even nonexistent, I think the militant nature of secularism puts plenty of heat on Muslims at all levels of society to reassure the rest of "us" that they either (a) have nothing to do with the fanatics and/or (b) are taking steps to shun and ostracize them from "acceptable" (within the secular sphere) society. My impression is that this message, though delivered in and by western societies with a velvet glove, is pretty constant.
2. "Because the violence of the Islamists is, truthfully, only to do with Islam: the worst version of Islam, certainly, but Islam nonetheless."
I think this is self-serving and reductive. The violence of Islamists has to do with Islam, yes. But only Islam? Ridiculous. This is equivalent to the claim that the violence of the Christians in the Crusades had only to do with Christianity.
3. "Here we land at the centre of the problem — a centre we have spent the last decade and a half trying to avoid: Islam is not a peaceful religion. No religion is, but Islam is especially not." As you pointed out, he overreaches here. He goes on to cite stories about Mohammed from the Hadith that indicate Mohammed was no pacifist. He wants to infer that Islamists are acting on the violent history of their founder. But nowhere does he show that Muslims teach that emulating all of the actions of their Prophet are what a good Muslim does, nor that Muslims believe that.
To "fight" Islamists will require more than a total surveillance state, state-of-the-art military equipment, and combat soldiers. It will require a more difficult examination of historical, non-religious causes emanating from western societies. This Guardian article discusses this perspective. It has its weaknesses, too, but I think gives a more complete picture of what is needed from our leaders to "defeat" Islamism and rescue the idea of the secular.
An aside: Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote that Joseph McCarthy might have been the most brilliant conspiracy ever created by the Reds, for what other person, what other rhetoric, would be likely to elicit sympathy for communism? In a similar vein, it strikes me that the militant atheists are best explained as an elaborate plot by theists to garner sympathy for believers and interest in their ways.
Thanks for posting all of the Murray article - it's quite good.
But readers might find your "Update" confusing. Could you show more clearly where Joel Hunter is speaking and where you are speaking? I'm inferring that Joel Hunter states the following:
"But nowhere does he show that Muslims teach that emulating all of the actions of their Prophet are what a good Muslim does, nor that Muslims believe that."
Unfortunately, Islam does teach that a good Muslim does emulate Muhammad in every respect. Fortunately, most Muslims do not do so, nor do most mosques talk about Muhammad's 'bad' actions, for whatever reasons.
BV: The material above the first update is wholly mine, while the material in the first update is wholly Hunter's. So Jeff's inference is correct.
The West’s movement towards the truth is remarkably slow. We drag ourselves towards it painfully, inch by inch, after each bloody Islamist assault.
In France, Britain, Germany, America and nearly every other country in the world it remains government policy to say that any and all attacks carried out in the name of Mohammed have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. It was said by George W. Bush after 9/11, Tony Blair after 7/7 and Tony Abbott after the Sydney attack last month. It is what David Cameron said after two British extremists cut off the head of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, when ‘Jihadi John’ cut off the head of aid worker Alan Henning in the ‘Islamic State’ and when Islamic extremists attacked a Kenyan mall, separated the Muslims from the Christians and shot the latter in the head. And, of course, it is what President François Hollande said after the massacre of journalists and Jews in Paris last week.
All these leaders are wrong. In private, they and their senior advisers often concede that they are telling a lie. The most sympathetic explanation is that they are telling a ‘noble lie’, provoked by a fear that we — the general public — are a lynch mob in waiting. ‘Noble’ or not, this lie is a mistake. First, because the general public do not rely on politicians for their information and can perfectly well read articles and books about Islam for themselves. Secondly, because the lie helps no one understand the threat we face. Thirdly, because it takes any heat off Muslims to deal with the bad traditions in their own religion. And fourthly, because unless mainstream politicians address these matters then one day perhaps the public will overtake their politicians to a truly alarming extent.
I own the 1953 first-edition Ace Books paperback depicted to the left. Price in 1953: 60 cents. I must have acquired my copy in the late '60s or early '70s for not much more than that. Originally published under the pen-name of William Lee, the "Old Bull Lee" of Kerouac's On the Road. The foreword is by Carl Solomon. According to the Wikipedia article just referenced, Solomon is also responsible for the Publisher's Note which serves in part as an apologia for the "sordid" narrative about to be put before the reader.
Remember, this is 1953, a time and place light-years from the present, culturally speaking. What would be celebrated as 'transgressive' today by our benighted cultural elites, was recognized then as trash whose publication had to be justified:
We realized that here was a document which could forearm the public more effectively than anything yet printed about the drug menace. The picture it paints of a sordid netherworld was all the more horrifying for being so authentic in language and point of view. For the protection of the reader, we have inserted occasional parenthetical notes to indicate where the author clearly departs from accepted medical fact or makes other unsubstantiated statements in an effort to justify his actions.
London Ed, taking a break from logic and philosophy of language, is now reading Burroughs:
I finished Junky, which was entertaining, and now onto Naked Lunch, which is terrible. Meanwhile, some extracts from Junky below, which challenge the idea that Burroughs was some kind of ‘gay writer’. Obviously he was gay, although he predates that term, and would have called himself ‘queer’. He alludes to his queerness in the book, but I find the passages below difficult to explain. They are surely not intended as ironic, there is a real hatred, possibly self-hatred there. I can find no critical study of Burroughs that mentions these passages.
The only equivalent I can think of for that period is Raymond Chandler. Supposedly Chandler was a repressed homosexual. But there is the same ‘homophobic’ streak in his work. You recall the Geiger character in The Big Sleep, who is characterised as both homosexual and unpleasant. Chandler writes somewhere about there being ‘no iron’ in a ‘fairy's’ punch, and about the vicious and unpleasant way that a ‘fairy party’ can end. I will try and find the quotes. In the same place I also have quotes from William Cobbett (supposed father of English socialism) which are virulently anti-semitic.
Burroughs quotations culled by Ed:
The hipster-bebop junkies never showed at 103rd Street. The 103rd Street boys were all old timers -- thin, sallow faces; bitter, twisted mouths; stiff-fingered, stylized gestures. (There is a junk gesture that marks the junky like the limp wrist marks the fag: the hand swings out from the elbow stiff-fingered, palm up.)
In the French Quarter there are several queer bars so full every night the fags spill out on to the sidewalk. A room full of fags gives me the horrors. They jerk around like puppets on invisible strings, galvanized into hideous activity that is the negation of everything living and spontaneous. The live human being has moved out of these bodies long ago. But something moved in when the original tenant moved out. Fags are ventriloquists' dummies who have moved in and taken over the ventriloquist. The dummy sits in a queer bar nursing his beer, and uncontrollably yapping out of a rigid doll face.
Occasionally, you find intact personalities in a queer bar, but fags set the tone of these joints, and it always brings me down to go into a queer bar. The bringdown piles up. After my first week in a new town I have had about all I can take of these joints, so my bar business goes somewhere else, generally to a bar in or near Skid Row.
I ordered a drink at the bar and looked around. Three Mexican fags were posturing in front of the jukebox. One of them slithered over to where I was standing, with the stylized gestures of a temple dancer, and asked for a cigarette. There was something archaic in the stylized movements, a depraved animal grace at once beautiful and repulsive. 1 could see him moving in the light of campfires, the ambiguous gestures fading out into the dark. Sodomy is as old as the human species. One of the fags was sitting in a booth by the jukebox, perfectly immobile with a stupid animal serenity.
I looked around and noticed how the hips stood out as a special group, like the fags who were posturing and screeching in one comer of the yard. The junkies were grouped together, talking and passing the junkie gesture back and forth, the arm swinging out from the elbow palm up, a gesture of separateness and special communion like the limp wrist of the fag.
I’m reading more than at almost any time in my life but spending less time reading online. The two facts have a common source – a festering impatience with shoddy writing. My literary gut, when young, was goat-like -- tough and indiscriminate. I read everything remotely of interest and felt compelled to finish every book I started. This makes sense: Everything was new, and how could I knowledgeably sift wheat from chaff without first milling, baking and ingesting? Literary prejudice, in a healthy reader, intensifies with age. I know and trust my tastes, and no longer need to read William Burroughs to figure out he wrote sadistic trash.
I've read my fair share of Burroughs and I concur that his stuff is trash: Junkie, Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, Exterminator. All in my library. But there is a place for literary trash. It has its uses as do the pathologist's slides and samples. But put on your mental gloves before handling the stuff.
Kerouac alone of the Beat Triumvirate moves me, though I surely don't consider him a great writer. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there really shouldn't be any university courses on Kerouac or Dylan or other culturally influential recent figures since their material is easily accessible and easily understandable. Universities ought not pander. They should remain -- or rather return to being -- institutions whose sacred task is the preservation and transmission of HIGH culture, great culture, culture which is not easily understood and requires expert guidance to penetrate and appreciate. The thought is extended in Inheritance and Appropriation.
We associate pieties with sentimental religion, holy medals and such, when in fact they often arrive in the form of sociopathic earnestness. Take Williams Burroughs – not the sort of fellow you would have wanted living next door. Burroughs was a deviant by any standard – a thief, a wife-killer, an Olympic-class drug abuser, a sexual pervert and a man who seldom failed to indulge any hateful impulse that entered the black hole of his egotism. As a writer, Burroughs celebrated his pathologies and never transcended his pulp origins – all good career moves in an age when professors and critics use “transgressive” as an accolade.
Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.
Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. [There needn't be any contradicting of our principles: they do not dictate national suicide.] You think all men are equal, but that is not [believed by all to be] true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.
Archbishop Amel Nona
Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil
There are still some posts from my first weblog that have not been tranferred to this, the latest incarnation of MavPhil. What follows was first posted over ten years ago, on 4 August 2004. Reproduced verbatim.
I am reading Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000, paperback ed. 2001, xiv + 205 pp.). This Spenglerian jeremiad is required reading for anyone interested in culture-critique. I’ve had to force myself to put it down, it is that fascinating. Unfortunately, Morris Berman (not to be confused with Paul Berman, who is also an astute culture critic) is a bit of a liberal, and this interferes, as one might expect, with the clarity and rigor of his thought. Perhaps I will get around to launching a full-scale critique of his book over the next weeks and months, but for now I zero in on just one passage.
At the top of p. 56, we find the following paragraph which I reproduce verbatim:
It is also the case that New Age inanities, as well as various other myths and historical falsifications, get published by the large commercial publishing firms because they are guaranteed to sell, whereas books that debunk such myths, or are based on careful scholarship, can get published only by university presses (if at all), which accounted for 0.77 percent of the number of books sold in the United States in 1998. This effectively amounts to a new form of censorship, Benjamin Barber’s “default totalitarianism.”
The main problem with this passage is Berman’s slovenly misuse of ‘censorship,’ a misuse that clearly indicates liberal-leftist bias. In the situation he describes, there is no censorship at all. Censorship involves the active suppression of free expression, typically, by a government agency. In the situation described, however, there are simply impersonal market forces at work: the market for scholarly works, which typically demand hard work and intelligence on the part of the reader, is small, unlike the market for drivel which makes minimal demands on its readers. Since there is little demand for scholarly books, the large commercial firms have no economic reason to publish them. To call this censorship or a form of censorship is absurd. Why ruin a perfectly good word?
Analogy: suppose you try to use a screwdriver as a crowbar. Chances are excellent that you will fail to pry loose what you are trying to pry loose but will destroy the screwdriver in the process. Use the right tool for the right job. Similarly, use the right word for the right concept, on pain of entering into the Spenglerian twilight.
Berman’s fallacy could be called ‘verbal inflation.’ One takes a perfectly useful word and inflates it so that it becomes useless and misleading. He commits the fallacy a second time when he cites Barber’s “default totalitarianism.” In what sense is a free market totalitarian? This needs to be explained.
An even more serious problem with the passage cited is that it refutes itself. It amounts to a performative self-refutation analogous to ‘No one is speaking now’ spoken by me now. Let me explain. Berman claims that books based on careful scholarship get published, if at all, only by university presses. Now his book is based on careful scholarship, but it is not published by a university press. It is published by Norton, and is touted on its cover as a “national bestseller.” Therefore, the existence and widespread availability of Berman’s book refutes the central thesis of the paragraph cited above. For the record, I found my copy of his book in paperback in a Borders bookstore, not exactly an arcane locale accessible only to pointy-headed intellectuals. So where is the censorship?
Am I being pedantic? Well, if you are going to preach high standards, then, dangblastit, you must adhere to them yourself. Of course, it is easy to zero in on a passage and tear it to pieces. But I’m a serious man with a serious point. Berman is on the right track, and we need culture critique; but we need to extrude the liberal-leftist nonsense from it. What we really need is conservative culture-critique. In addition, we need a conservative metacritique of the extant culture-critiques, a metacritique that extrudes the bad elements in them, which are mostly of liberal-leftist provenience, and retains the good elements, which are mostly of conservative provenience.
I was one of those who saw "Last Tango in Paris" when it was first released, in 1972. I haven't seen it since and I don't remember anything specific about it except one scene, the scene you remember too, the 'butter scene,' in which the Marlon Brando character sodomizes the Maria Schneider character. In a post from February, 2011 written on the occasion of her death, I had this to say:
Islamic culture is in many ways benighted and backward, fanatical and anti-Enlightenment, but our trash culture is not much better. Suppose you are a Muslim and you look to the West. What do you see? Decadence. And an opportunity to bury the West.
If Muslims think that our decadent culture is what Western values are all about, and something we are trying to impose on them, then we are in trouble. They do and we are.
This brings me to the Jewish comedienne Joan Rivers who died recently at the the age of 81. No conservative can celebrate her life and influence without qualification. For she played a role in making our culture cruder and trashier. By how much? I'll leave that for you to ponder. And of course the comediennes among her admirers will take it, and have taken it, further still, and without the curbs on excess deriving from her education and upbringing.
That being said, conservatives of my stripe defend her right to free speech as against both the Islamists and their leftist enablers who have shown time and again that they have no interest in free speech except insofar as it politically correct free speech.
One of the ironies of the present day is that we conservatives are the 'new liberals,' 'liberal' being used in the good, old-fashioned sense to mean a person who champions toleration.
But of course you must never forget that toleration has limits. Ought one tolerate those who do not respect the principle of toleration? Of course not. If toleration is truly a value, then one ought to demand it not only of oneself but of others. My toleration meets its limit in your intolerance. I cannot tolerate your intolerance, for if I do, I jeopardize the very principle of toleration, and with it the search for truth.
Radical Islam, in its fanaticism and murderous intolerance, has no claim on the West's tolerance. It is no breach of tolerance on our part to demand that they behave themselves. We must also demand of them that if they want to be tolerated, they must tolerate others, Jews for example. They must not be allowed to benefit from the West's tolerance in order to preach intolerance and hate. Just as they have a right to their beliefs, we have a right to ours, and a right to enforce our beliefs about toleration on them if they would live in our midst.
Toleration is a value because truth is a value. A toleration worth wanting and having is therefore not to be confused with indifference towards truth, or relativism about truth. The great Leszek Kolakowski makes this point very well:
It is important to notice, however, that when tolerance is enjoined upon us nowadays, it is often in the sense of indifference: we are asked, in effect, to refrain from expressing -- or indeed holding -- any opinion, and sometimes even to condone every conceivable type of behaviour or opinion in others. This kind of tolerance is something entirely different, and demanding it is part of our hedonistic culture, in which nothing really matters to us; it is a philosophy of life without responsibility and without beliefs. It is encouraged by a variety of philosophies in fashion today, which teach us there is no such thing as truth in the traditional sense, and therefore that when we persist in our beliefs, even if we do so without aggression, we are ipso facto sinning against tolerance.
This is nonsense, and harmful nonsense. Contempt for truth harms our civilization no less than fanatical insistence on [what one takes to be] the truth. In addition, an indifferent majority clears the way for fanatics, of whom there will always be plenty around. Our civilization encourages the belief that everything should be just fun and games -- as indeed it is in the infantile philosophies of the so-called 'New Age.' Their content is impossible to describe, for they mean anything one wants them to; that is what they are for. ("On Toleration" in Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal, Penguin 1999, pp. 36-37.)
The high school I attended required each student to take two years of Latin. Years later the requirement was dropped. When a fundraiser contacted me for a donation, I said, "You eliminated Latin, why should I give you a donation?" He replied that the removal of Latin made room for Chinese.
What I should have said at that point was something like the following. "While the study of Asian languages and cultures and worldviews is wonderfully enriching, it must not come at the expense of the appropriation and transmission of our own culture which is Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman."
And then I could have clinched my point by quoting a couple of famous lines from Goethe's Faust, Part I, Night, lines 684-685:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
The idea is that what one has been lucky enough to inherit, one must actively appropriate, i.e., make one's own by hard work, if one is really to possess it. The German infinitive erwerben has not merely the meaning of 'earn' or 'acquire' but also the meaning of aneignen, appropriate, make one's own.
Unfortunately the schools and universities of today have become leftist seminaries more devoted to the eradication of the high culture of the West than its transmission and dissemination. These leftist seed beds have become hot houses of political correctness.
What can you do? You might think of pulling your children out of the public schools and home-schooling them or else sending them to places like Great Hearts Academies.
A recent Richard Fernandez column ends brilliantly:
We often forget that the sacred texts of mankind began as practical documents. They were checklists. And we may well rediscover this fact before the end. One can imagine the last two postmoderns crawling towards each other in the ruins of a once great city to die, and while waiting to expire engage in conversation to pass the time.
“Waldo,” the first said, “do you remember that tablet displayed in front of the Texas Statehouse. You know, back when there was a Texas?”
“Yeah, didn’t it have a whole bunch of stuff scrawled on it? Tell me again what it said,” replied the other.
“Waldo, it said, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ And ‘thou shalt not lie’.”
“Yes it also said, ‘thou shalt not steal’. Plus somewhere in the middle said, ‘thou shalt not have sex with people you weren’t married to.’”
“Yeah, I remember it now,” the second post-modern said. “What a bunch of hooey. It’s a right wing, nutjob, racist document called the Ten Commandments. It’s a religious document.”
“No Waldo,” the first replied. “That’s where you’re wrong. It ain’t no religious document. I just figured out it was a survival manual.”
In general, the liberal principle persists that when Arabs on the offense kill lots of Arabs it is normal, but when Jews in defense kill far fewer Arabs it is reprehensible. If Israel were weak, Hamas would do to it what ISIS is now doing to Christians, and the world would react to the rout and slaughter of the Jews with the indifference that it shows to Christians. Wait, it does that anyway.
I would add that to understand the Left you must understand that lefties typically leap to the defense of the perceived underdog regardless of what the underdog has done to deserve the treatment he receives. Right and wrong don't come into it. The relative weakness of the underdog is taken to justify his criminality while the decent people who defend themselves are urged, quite absurdly, to show restraint. The terrorist entity, Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, understands this, a fact that lends a bit of sanity to their otherwise insanely self-destructive attack on Israel. They seek the sympathy of the morally obtuse Left.
As usual, the mainstream media is all wrong about Islam. In FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield points out that “looting was the core of Muhammad’s conquests.” And it came with Allah’s seal of approval. Numerous passages in the Koran and in the biography of Muhammad attest to the legitimacy of booty as the proper reward of fighting. Islam has no trouble with looting, says Greenfield, because it is “innately a gang religion”:
The gang … finds meaning in the ethos of the fight and in the comradeship of fellow gang members. That is why jihad is so central to Islam … Jihad is the gang culture of Islam. Its bonding rituals are central to Islam, whose original elements derive mainly from the raids of Mohammed and his companions…
Young men don’t join gangs just for the booty, but also for the sense of brotherhood the gang confers, and, perhaps primarily, for proof of masculinity. Psychologists and sociologists have known for a long time that gangs are particularly appealing to fatherless boys because boys who lack the guidance of fathers are most likely to feel insecure about their masculine identity, and thus most likely to seek confirmation of it in the ultra-masculine activities of gangs. Social scientists were hardly the first to discover this basic fact of male psychology. From the earliest times, almost all societies developed special rites of initiation for males to assist them in the passage from boyhood to manhood, and to channel them away from anti-social activities.
When boys grow up in communities without the guidance of fathers and elders and without established rites of initiation and confirmation, they tend to create their own initiation groups and rituals of passage. This is why modern urban areas with high concentrations of fatherless boys are the places where gang formation is highest.
The epidemic of fatherless boys is a worldwide phenomenon and it spells more recruits for the Islamic jihad. The reason the jihad doesn’t have a recruitment problem is that it appeals to basic masculine psychology. It promises action, male bonding, legitimate looting, a cause to fight for, subservient females in this world, and dozens more in the next. It’s the reason Muslims have been extremely successful in recruiting prisoners to Islam both in Europe and America. As I noted in Christianity, Islam, and Atheism:
In the United States, roughly 80 percent of inmates who find faith during their incarceration choose Islam. Many of these men are in prison in the first place because they were attracted to the masculine world of gangs. Now they’re being offered the chance to join the biggest, most powerful “gang” in the world. We’re seeing the beginning of a trend in the West: fatherless boys joining gangs, then ending up in prison, then coming out of prison as converts to Islam and the jihad. (p. 169)
There seems to be no shortage of young men willing to join up with the warrior culture of Islamic jihad. How about our own warrior culture—the U.S. military? The military still produces warriors, but the military culture is changing in ways that may make it less attractive to potential future warriors. Traditionally, the military has served, among other things, as an initiation into manhood. Past Marine recruiting campaigns, for example, were built around themes such as “The Marines Make Men” or “A Few Good Men.”
As the West slides into the dustbin of history, the philosopher's pleasures are of the owlish sort. The owl of Minerva spreads her wings at dusk, to survey the scene of strife, with an equanimity born of distance, as befits a spectator of all time and existence.
Walter Williams against Slavery Reparations. But is Williams really black? Or is he a traitor to his race? Could anyone be a traitor to his race? Is there any idea so preternaturally dumbassed that leftists won't promulgate it? If I argue against reparations, leftists call me a racist. If a seriously black man like Williams does, he is called an Uncle Tom. That's the Left for you.
Last night, the first episode of Fargo, the TV series, which is loosely based on the 1996 Coen Brothers movie of the same name. Another cause and effect of the decline of a culture unravelling with each passing day?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Wille zur Macht #585 (Kroener Ausgabe):
Ein Nihilist ist der Mensch, welcher von der Welt, wie sie ist, urteilt, sie sollte nicht sein, und von der Welt, wie sie sein sollte, urteilt, sie existiert nicht.
A nihilist is one who judges of the world as it is, that it ought not be, and of the world as it ought to be, that it does not exist.
It is twilight time for a great nation. One indication is the rise of political lawlessness.*
Should this trouble the philosopher? Before he is a citizen, the philosopher is a "spectator of all time and existence" in a marvellous phrase that comes down to us from Plato's Republic (486a). The rise and fall of great nations is just more grist for the philosopher's mill. His true homeland is nothing so paltry as a particular nation, even one as exceptional as the USA, and his fate as a truth-seeker cannot be tied to its fate. Like the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly Athens is not bound to a geographical location.
National decline is not just grist for the philosopher's mill, however, it is also perhaps a condition of understanding as Hegel suggests in the penultimate paragraph of the preface to The Philosophy of Right:
When philosophy paints its grey on grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's grey on grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at the falling of the dusk.
Daughter of Jupiter, Minerva in the mythology of the Greeks is the goddess of wisdom. And the nocturnal owl is one of its ancient symbols. The meaning of the Hegelian trope is that understanding, insight, and wisdom arise when the object to be understood has played itself out, when it has actualized and thus exhausted its potentialities, and now faces only decline.
When a shape of life has grown old, philosophy paints its grey on grey. The allusion is to Goethe's Faust wherein Mephisto says
Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
Grey, dear friend, is all theory And green the golden tree of life.
Philosophy is grey, a "bloodless ballet of categories" (F. H. Bradley) and its object is grey -- no longer green and full of life. And so philosophy paints its grey concepts on the grey object, in this case America on the wane. The object must be either dead or moribund before it can be fully understood. Hegel in his famous saying re-animates and gives a new meaning to the Platonic "To philosophize is to learn how to die."
In these waning days of a great republic, the owl of Minerva takes flight. What we lose in vitality we gain in wisdom.
The consolations of philosophy are many.
But as citizens we fight on. For the wise philosopher knows that he can live his vocation only in certain political conditions.
A recurrent theme of mine is that contemporary liberals are extremists. Note the qualifier 'contemporary.' I am not talking about 1960 JFK liberals, let alone the classical liberals of the 19th century. Contemporary liberals are, in my recent coinage, LINOs, liberals in name only. What in fact they are are hard leftists.
So I suppose I should thank Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York and son of Mario Cuomo for saying what he and his ilk think when their normal modus operandi is to hide what they really think and engage in stealth tactics, Obama being a prime practitioner thereof. Cuomo has spilled the beans and shown his true colors if you will permit me a mixed metaphor. Here is what he said:
Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.
Does this deserve a civil response? No, but it does call for a response, of the sort illustrated here.
It is popular now to talk of race, class, and gender oppression. But left out of this focus on supposed victim groups is the one truly targeted cohort — the young. Despite the Obama-era hype, we are not suffering new outbreaks of racism. Wendy Davis is not the poster girl for a resurgent misogyny. There is no epidemic of homophobia. Instead, if this administration’s policies are any guide, we are witnessing a pandemic of ephebiphobia — an utter disregard for young people.
The war against those under 30 — and the unborn — is multifaceted. No one believes that the present payroll deductions leveled on working youth will result in the same levels of support upon their retirements that is now extended to the retiring baby-boom generation. Instead, the probable solutions of raising the retirement age, cutting back the rate of payouts, hiking taxes on benefits, and raising payroll rates are discussed in an environment of après moi le déluge — to come into effect after the boomers are well pensioned off.
The baby-boomer/me generation demands what its “greatest generation” parents got — or, in fact, far more, given its increased rates of longevity. The solution of more taxes and less benefits will fall on young people and the unborn, apparently on the premise that those under 18 do not vote, and those between 18 and 30 either vote less frequently than their grandparents or less knowledgeably about their own self-interest.
The Social Security pyramidal scheme is merely the tip of the ephebiphobic iceberg. Currently student indebtedness exceeds $1 trillion. Many of these loans begin compounding before graduation and are pegged at interest rates far higher than parental mortgages. The cause of this tuition bubble is also not controversial. The prices colleges charge for annual tuition, room and board have for over two decades far exceeded the annual rate of inflation.
There were four causes of such price gouging of students. None of them had anything to do with offering better education for a more competitive price for job-hungry graduates. The first was automatic escalations in the amount of money students could borrow that would be backed by federal guarantees. If campuses hiked their wares at prices consistently twice the rate of inflation, they could assume that students — while in college — could qualify to borrow the needed sums. What happened afterwards was not all that much a concern of the campus, at least as long as it did not affect subsequent admissions.
Second, the size and compensation of the administrative class exploded. Again, the reason why was not difficult to understand. Awash in federally backed loan dollars, hoping to lure students with high-tech and social amenities, and to indoctrinate them with race, class, and gender ideology, campuses created new positions from diversity associate provosts to technology gurus — all to oversee everything from rock-climbing walls to on-campus lectures and paid workshops from fashionable cultural icons.
Third, there was a radical bifurcation among faculty, a sort of divide-and-conquer strategy that rewarded fossilized tenured professors with reduced teaching loads and support for research, while cutting back on new replacement tenure-track billets and upping the percentage of units taught by pastime adjunct teachers. The new younger Morlocks did the grunge 1A work for their more rarefied and contemplative elder Eloi, and the students who paid for it sat through their lectures on fairness and equality.
Finally, the idea of medieval exemption masked the oppression. Colleges were loudly progressive. Faculties sided with the Palestinians and Walmart greeters in the abstract, never the exploited part-timers in their midst. The noble poor were always distant, not the supposedly clueless lower-middle-class student who went into hock to subsidize academic rants on equalitarianism.
I tend to take a dim view of tattoos, seeing them as the graffiti of the human body, and as yet another, perhaps minor, ingredient in the Decline of the West. Christians believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; they ought to consider whether tattoos deface the temple. But I do not dogmatize on this topic. You can reasonably attack my graffiti analogy, and if you insist that tattoos are beautiful, not ugly, I won't be able to refute you. If you argue that there is no, or needn't be, a connection between tattoos and cultural decline, you may have a case. You might even be able reasonably to maintain that the bodily temple is beautified by judicious inking. Leviticus 19:28, see article below, cuts no ice with me.
I only advise caution: permanent or semi-permanent modifications of the mortal coil are to be made only after due deliberation. You might want to consider such things as: the signal you're sending, your future employability, and, for the distaff contingent, how ugly that tattoo will look on your calf when you are 45 as opposed to 20 and the ink is cheek-by-jowl with varicose veins and cellulite. Cute baristas in hip huggers with tattoos on their lower backs invite impertinent questions as to how far down the patterns extend. If you are thinking of a career in public relations, a bone through the nose is definitely out, as are facial hardware and a Charley Manson-style swastika tattooed onto the forehead.
So while I am pleased that one of my readers was sufficiently impressed with one of my sayings to tattoo it onto his forearm, my pleasure is alloyed by my slight aversion to tattoos. In the second shot below, the same person sports the Logical Square of Opposition on his leg. Perhaps he should follow it up with E. J. Lowe's Ontological Square of Opposition on the other leg.
Victor Davis Hanson, The Last Generation of the West and the Thin Strand of Civilization. "Note the theme of this essay: the more in humane fashion we provide unemployment insurance, food stamps, subsidized housing, legal advice, health care and disability insurance, the more the recipients find it all inadequate, inherent proof of unfairness and inequality, and always not enough." [. . .] "Popular culture is likewise anti-civilizational. Does anyone believe that Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga are updates to Glenn Miller, jazz, Bob Dylan and the Beatles? Even in the bimbo mode, Marilyn Monroe had an aura that Ms. Kardashian and Ms. Hilton lack. Teens wearing bobby socks and jeans have transmogrified to strange creatures in our midst with head-to -toe tattoos and piercings as if we copied Papua New Guinea rather than it us. Why the superficial skin-deep desire to revert to the premodern? When I walk in some American malls and soak in the fashion, I am reminded of National Geographic tribal photos of the 1950s."
Nat Hentoff on Obama the Lawless. He calls for impeachment, and rightly so. Hentoff is a liberal I respect, but then his liberalism has little in common with the extremism of the liberal fascists of the present day.
Jonathan Tobin on Andrew Cuomo's Version of Liberal Tolerance. Cuomo is a 'liberal' who deserves contempt; he is what I call a LINO, a liberal in name only. Toleration is the touchstone of classical liberalism. There is precious little of it in this extremist. If you can't see that he is an extremist, then you are an extremist and part of the problem.
The universities ought to be in the business of transmitting high culture, not pandering to the trends of the moment. But the universities abdicated their authority in the '60s. It has been said that there is no coward more cowardly than a college administrator. Hanson, above, mentions Dylan and the Beatles, alluding to their vast superiority to such cultural polluters as Kanye West and Miley Cyrus. But I say that no serious university would devote more than a tiny fraction of its curricula to the works of Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, or the Beatles. (As anyone who reads this weblog knows, I am a big-time aficionado, from way back, of the aforementioned. I know their work inside and out.) What we have now is a major assault on the humanities. See Heather MacDonald, The Humantities and Us.
David Gelernter, The Closing of the Scientific Mind. On the same theme of an assault on the humanities. A pack of anti-humantistic ignoramuses have infiltrated the sciences. (My way of putting it, not Gelernter's.) I could round up the usual suspects, but if you read these pages you know who they are. See Scientism category. You must study Gelernter's piece. He knows whereof he speaks. His article begins thusly: >>The huge cultural authority science has acquired over the past century imposes large duties on every scientist. Scientists have acquired the power to impress and intimidate every time they open their mouths, and it is their responsibility to keep this power in mind no matter what they say or do. Too many have forgotten their obligation to approach with due respect the scholarly, artistic, religious, humanistic work that has always been mankind’s main spiritual support. Scientists are (on average) no more likely to understand this work than the man in the street is to understand quantum physics. But science used to know enough to approach cautiously and admire from outside, and to build its own work on a deep belief in human dignity. No longer.<<
This is an extremely penetrating analysis, worthy of careful study. Excerpt (emphasis added):
Again, note the nature of the “foremost” ideological mandate: if Muslim nations do not feel “good” about their historical contributions to science and engineering, such depression could not be attributed to their present scientific ossification or Islam’s often historical subordination to Western science, especially after the fifteenth century. Instead, the discontent over the absence of scientific parity might be due to other more nefarious causes—and thus in part rectified by the power, wealth, and influence of a properly sensitive U.S. federal government.
Similarly, homeland security is no longer just about ensuring the safety of the United States. In a series of bizarre euphemisms—overseas contingency operations, man-caused disasters, work-place violence—Islamic terrorism was redefined as a spontaneous tragedy without specified causation. To the degree that the issue of radical Islam was unavoidable in the debate over U.S. domestic and foreign policy, the contortions only grew worse: we should not allow the mass murderer Major Hasan to prejudice the Army’s diversity program; the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was largely secular; and jihad is a legitimate tenet of Islam properly characterized as a “holy struggle,” and therefore improperly associated with radical Islamic terrorists.
The politicization of almost every aspect of American culture and politics over the last five years could easily be expanded. Traditional employment background checks are now “racist” given that minorities with higher crime records might be unduly affected. The 2009 reordering of the Chrysler creditors leap-frogged junior union creditors over senior bondholders—as enforcement of existing legislation becomes predicated on perceptions of social justice rather than faithfully executing settled laws on the books. Each new tropical storm launches a fresh debate about “climate change,” despite no evidence that recent weather is more prone to hurricanes or the planet has heated up over the last 15 years. Almost every new mass shooting offers occasion for mobilization to enhance existing gun control legislation.
What distinguishes an institution from a flash mob is that its rules endure. They can be changed, of course. But only by significant supermajorities. That’s why constitutional changes require two-thirds of both houses plus three-quarters of the states. If we could make constitutional changes by majority vote, there would be no Constitution.
As of today, the Senate effectively has no rules. Congratulations, Harry Reid. Finally, something you will be remembered for.
Barack Obama may be remembered for something similar. His violation of the proper limits of executive power has become breathtaking. It’s not just making recess appointments when the Senate is in session. It’s not just unilaterally imposing a law Congress had refused to pass — the Dream Act — by brazenly suspending large sections of the immigration laws.
Except that he is asking them to break the law. His own law. Under Obamacare, no insurer may issue a policy after 2013 that does not meet the law’s minimum coverage requirements. These plans were canceled because they do not.
The law remains unchanged. The regulations governing that law remain unchanged. Nothing is changed except for a president proposing to unilaterally change his own law from the White House press room.
That’s banana republic stuff, except that there the dictator proclaims from the presidential balcony.
A fine jeremiad. And of course we cannot call Obama the Mendacious and his shills on their brazen lies for that would be discrimination! To discriminate between justifiable and unjustifiable discrimination is itself unjustifiably discriminatory.
I coined the word here. Christina Hoff Sommers combats the thing. While so doing she provides further proof that the Left is devoid of common sense:
Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts.
Tug of peace? Is that a joke? Peace is better than war, of course, but to secure and maintain peace one must be prepared to wage and win war. Or as the Latin saying has it, Si vis pacem, para bellum. "If you want peace, prepare for war."
And another thing. Bring back the monkey bars and the long summer vacations. Enough with the wussification. (Not a word? It is now.)
Victor Davis Hanson, Life in the Twilight (bolding added to underscore the need for mavericks if we are to stop the transmogrification of the US into the SU):
We are becoming like Eastern Europeans who were oblivious that the faces on the May Day dais had sometimes changed. In other words, the evil and Islamophobic Nakoula did it in Benghazi, the overzealous (but otherwise understandably progressive) Cincinnati rogue agents alone did the improper audits, the evil (Fox News) James Rosen perhaps deserved the monitoring — all enemies of social justice.
Statism and the voices of megaphones like Jay Carney wear down a population. If the Great Leader says that there is a war on women because hip young affluent females like Sandra Fluke have trouble getting free condoms, then there surely is — and elevator-owning, dog-torturing, and equestrian-marrying Mitt Romney is waging it.
But there is no war when a Philadelphia abortionist, under the nose of state authorities, murders fetuses as they cry and gasp for air — and sometimes their laboring mothers along with them. If guns that are black and plastic and look scary are “automatic” assault weapons whose banning will save the children, then by all means ban these machine guns. If the planet has not warmed up in 15 years, then it is still warming up, and companies like Solyndra need more subsidies.
Still, the human psyche is a strange thing. It needs to feel transcendent, either spiritually or by confidence in children or through the reputation of a life lived well. Crush that spirit through government obfuscation, and the people become the walking dead of a dreary Warsaw Pact Budapest or Prague, given that there is no hope for those who follow.
The soul appreciates equality, but not of the enforced kind that destroy individual liberty. Insult the voter, call him names, regulate him, lecture him about his various -ologies and -isms, regiment his youth with proper thinking, curb his speech, and he becomes a mute, a dead soul, a Brit in about 1955, a Hungarian in 1956, a Russian in about 1970, or today’s Cuban.
To keep America exceptional, we need eccentrics, contrarians, doubters, politically incorrect truth-tellers. Take them away, and we are a nation of head-nodders like most other states.
Go to sleep in 2009 and wake up now. The world has changed: golf is the people’s game; racist, sexist, homophobic thought and speech are predicated on the ideology of who says it; the IRS, the NSA, and the Justice Department are watching you; the State Department is run like a campaign organization; the president offers politically correct thoughts on local trials; the attorney general worries about “my people”; the government is producing more oil and gas by trying to stop it; wind and solar are the way of the future; gropes and pornography are either career-ending or cause for needed sabbaticals; and high unemployment, debt, and low growth are proof of a robust recovery.
The model of our future will be a landscape like Detroit, as those on MSNBC or on NPR find ever more clever ways to assure us that the city is “saved” from the free-market capitalist and racist buccaneers. We will shuffle on, as the voices go in one ear and out the other, as they screech that Big Brother saved us at last from the reactionary Goldsteins of the world who nearly destroyed it.
Bobby Bare's 1963 Country and Western crossover hit features the lines, "By day I make the cars, by night I make the bars . . . ." But that was '63, around the time a series of Democrat mayors took control of the city. Since then there have been seven, five of them black, with nary a Republican, and now 50 years later the place is a disaster with the bars outnumbering the cars. Post hoc ergo propter hoc? I don't think so. Liberalism has destroyed the city in five ways as detailed here.
1. Unions crippled the auto industry.
2. Whites were demonized until they left.
3. Out-of-control crime helped drive much of the black middle class out of the city.
4. Reckless government spending bankrupted the city.
Why not, given the incorrigible stupidity of reactionary liberals? Krauthammer:
But Detroit is an object lesson not just for other cities. Not even the almighty federal government is immune to Stein’s Law. Reactionary liberalism simply cannot countenance serious reform of the iconic social welfare programs of the 20th century. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are pledged to their inviolability. President Obama will occasionally admit that, for example, Medicare cannot go on as is, but then reverts to crude demagoguery when Republicans propose a structural reform, such as premium support for Medicare or something as obvious as raising the retirement age to match increasing longevity.
On the contrary. Obama added one enormous new entitlement (Obamacare) and, in his last State of the Union address, proposed yet another (universal preschool).
I saw Mr. Blow and his lovely wife on TV last night. A charming couple. I mean that sincerely. But when I read his columns I am reminded that we live in the Age of Feeling, as Dennis Prager calls it. There is no thinking in Blow's op-ed pieces for The New York Times, only emoting. Add 'Blow' to the list of aptronyms. His latest is The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin. I was tempted to sort through the nonsense it contains, but thought better of it. Time is short and some writings are beneath refutation.
Blow has a skull full of mush, but at least he is articulate. The real problems of the black community lie much deeper, not in any systemic or institutional racism -- the imputation of which to our great country is just slanderous nonsense -- but in a culture that produces people like Rachel Jeantel who belong to a seemingly unassimilable indigenous subculture. A fellow blogger points to the genetic factors involved, remarking that the culture that produces a Jeantel is itself produced by Jeantels. I responded that the genetics are given, while the social and cultural factors are malleable. I don't want to believe that a person like her cannot be taught to read, write, and speak basic English.
And while we are on the topic of Ms. Jeantel, she explains here that Zimmi simply failed to appreciate the cultural context in which he was being "whoop-assed." How insensitive of him! Had he been able properly to contextualize the beat-down, he surely would not have 'smoked' the poor boy.
Suppose a florist refuses to provide flowers for a Ku Klux Klan event, or a caterer refuses to cater a neo-Nazi gathering. Suppose the refusal is a principled one grounded in opposition to the respective ideologies. Would you say that the purveyors of the services in question would have the right to refuse service, and that the State would have no right to force the purveyors to provide their services?
Yes you would. Well, it is no different if a florist refuses on grounds of principle to sell flowers to be used in a same-sex ceremony. She has the right to refuse, and the State has no right to compel the florist to violate her conscience.
There is no relevant difference between these cases. Opposition to same-sex marriage is grounded in principle. For some these principles are religious, for others purely philosophical, and for still others a mixture of both.
People had better wake up. Day by day we are losing our liberties to the fascists of the totalitarian Left.
The short answer is that, while we are running on fumes, they are rich and voluminous and long-lasting. It will take some time before they and we peter out. So there is still time to take action. Decline is not inevitable. But do we have the will?
So why is the United States not experiencing something like the rioting in Turkey or Brazil, or the murder of thousands in Mexico? How are we able to avoid the bloody chaos in Syria, the harsh dictatorships of Russia and China, the implosion of Egypt or the economic hopelessness now endemic in Southern Europe?
About half of America and many of its institutions operate as they always have. Caltech and MIT are still serious. Neither interjects race, class and gender studies into its engineering or physics curricula. Most in the IRS, unlike some of their bosses, are not corrupt. For the well driller, the power plant operator and the wheat farmer, the lies in Washington are still mostly an abstraction.
Get up at 5:30 a.m. and you'll see that most of the nation's urban freeways are jammed with hard-working commuters. Every day they go to work, support their families, pay their taxes and avoid arrest -- so that millions of others do not have to do the same. The U.S. military still more closely resembles our heroes from World War II than the culture of the Kardashians.
[. . .]
If Rome quieted the people with public spectacles and cheap grain from the provinces, so too Americans of all classes keep glued to favorite video games and reality-TV shows. Fast food is both cheap and tasty. All that for now is preferable to rioting and revolt.
Like Rome, America apparently can coast for a long time on the fumes of its wonderful political heritage and economic dynamism -- even if both are little understood or appreciated by most who still benefit from them.
I've been a tad harsh on the French in these pages over the years. But they seem to be showing some backbone in resisting Islamization and such destructive items on the leftist agenda as same-sex marriage. More than the PC-whipped Germans to be sure. In any case here is the story:
After the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in France, one mayor is refusing to comply. Jean-Michel Colo of Arcangues rejected an application for marriage from a gay couple in his village. Guy Martineau-Espel and Jean-Michel Martin tried to compromise with the major, taking vows outside the traditional marriage hall. Nevertheless, the Arcangues mayor still refused. “When people close the door at home, they do what they want. For me, marriage is for a woman and man to have children. I am not discriminating as a same-sex couple is sterile. It’s a parody of equality, it’s a big lie,” he reasoned.
Another way to respond to the same-sexers is to concede discrimination but then point out the obvious: not all types of discrimination are bad. The following is a non sequitur: 'Opposition to X is discriminatory' ergo 'Opposition to X is morally unacceptable.' We don't allow the under 16 to drive or the under 18 to vote. That is discriminatory. But for a good reason. There are under 16s and under 18s qualified for the respective activities, but most aren't. The law can't cater to individual cases. Further examples can be multiplied ad libitum. We all discriminate all the time and with perfect justification. Not all discrimination is illegimate.
I lay out part of my case against same-sex 'marriage' in detail in the entries cited below.
'Same-sex' can be added to our list of alienans adjectives when it is used to modify 'marriage.' Same-sex marriage is no more marraige than a decoy duck is a duck, faux marble is marble, or derivative intentionality is intentionality.
Here lies Professor X. As he is buried here, his name is buried in the scholarly apparatus of the enduring, though rarely consulted, annals of scholarship. Indeed, he has already become a forgotten footnote to a debate itself teetering on the brink of oblivion. And yet it can be said that he made a contribution, however minor, to the transmission of high culture during a time of decline. More importantly, he had the wisdom to appreciate that his playing of this role was enough.
Victor Davis Hanson writes yet another report on the Decline of the West. This owl of Minerva catalogs and explains from the comfort and security of his Hoover Institution perch, but I would like to hear some suggestions from him as to what can be done to stop or slow down the slide. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps all we have are the pleasures of scribbling and understanding. Hanson and I are now old men who have it made. Twilight time is not so bad as long as health and eyesight hold out, as long as one's faculties permit the enjoyment of the vita contemplativa. The life of otium liberale is delicious indeed. It ain't dark yet, and we have a few years left. We can hope to be dead before unbearable night.
But what about the young? What can they do, Victor? And how can we help them?
Poetically translated: The Going Under of the Land of the Evening. Literally: The Decline of the West.
Victor Davis Hanson, Western Cultural Suicide. The philosopher in me likes it that Hanson begins with a distinction and ends with a paradox. (Philosophers hate a contradiction but love a paradox. And of course they are masters of distinction. Distinguo ergo sum, saith the philosopher.) The distinction, and an important one it is, is between multiculturalism and a multiracial society united by a single culture. A distinction being elided as the melting pot melts and we drift down the path to Balkanization too weak and self-doubting to defend our values.
Is not that the ultimate paradox: The solution to the sort of violence we saw in Britain and Sweden the past week, or to the endless acrimony over “comprehensive immigration reform,” is that the Western hosts will so accede to multiculturalism that the West will be no longer unique — and therefore no longer a uniquely desirable refuge for its present legions of schizophrenic admiring critics. If the immigrant from Oaxaca can recreate Oaxaca in Tulare, or the Pakistani second-generation British subject can carve out Sharia in the London boroughs, or a suburb of Stockholm is to be like in one in Damascus, then would there be any reason to flee to Tulare, London, or Stockholm?
What is to be done about the threat of radical Islam? After explaining the problem, Pat Buchanan gives his answer:
How do we deal with this irreconcilable conflict between a secular West and a resurgent Islam?
First, as it is our presence in their world that enrages so many, we should end our interventions, shut down the empire and let Muslim rulers deal with Muslim radicals.
Second, we need a moratorium on immigration from the Islamic world. Inevitably, some of the young we bring in, like the Tsarnaevs, will yield to radicalization and seek to strike a blow for Islam against us.
What benefit do we derive as a people to justify the risks we take by opening up America to mass migration from a world aflame with hatred and hostility over race, ethnicity, culture, history and faith?
Why are we bringing all of the world's quarrelsome minorities, and all the world's quarrels with them, into our home?
What we saw in Boston was the dark side of diversity.
Buchanan is right. We will never be able to teach the backward denizens of these God-forsaken regions how to live. And certainly not by invasion and bombing. Besides, what moral authority do we have at this point? We are a country in dangerous fiscal, political, and moral decline. The owl of Minerva is about to spread her wings. We will have our hands full keeping ourselves afloat for a few more years. Until we wise up and shape up, a moratorium on immigration from Muslim lands is only common sense.
Common sense, however, is precisely what liberals lack. So I fear things will have to get much worse before they get better.
Suddenly in 2013, what was once sure has become suspect. All the old referents are not as they once were. The world is turned upside down, and whether the government taps, politicizes, or lies is not so important if it subsidizes the 47%. Does anyone care that five departments of government are either breaking the law or lying or both (State [Benghazi], Defense [the harassment issues], Justice [monitoring of phone lines], Treasury [corruption at the IRS], Health and Human Services [shaking down companies to pay for PR for Obamacare])?
The National Rifle Association is now supposed to be a suspect paramilitary group, in the way the Boy Scouts are homophobes. One day we woke up and learned that by fiat women were suddenly eligible to serve in front-line combat units—no discussion, no hearings, no public debate. We had a “war on women” over whether upscale Sandra Fluke could get free birth control from the government, but snoozed through the Dr. Gosnell trial. The latter may have been the most lethal serial killer in U.S. history, if his last few years of snipping spinal cords were indicative of the his first three unmonitored decades of late-term aborting.
The Obama administration had decided to shut down as many coal plants as it can, stop most new gas and oil drilling on federal lands, and go after private companies ranging from huge aircraft manufacturers to the small guitar concerns [link added by BV]—based not on law, but on certain theories of climate change and labor equity. As in the case with the IRS, the EPA is now synonymous with politically motivated activism designed to circumvent the law. The president in his State of the Union address assured us that cap-and-trade will be back, given, he says, the atypical violent weather that hit the U.S. in his term—even as global temperatures have not risen in 15 years, and hurricanes are now occurring more rarely than during the last administration.
The government, we were also told, would not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, and would grant de facto amnesty for large numbers of illegal aliens as the election approached. Enforcement of existing law now is a fluid idea, always up for discussion For the first time in my life, I can not even find rifle shells on the store shelves—amid rumors that the Department of Homeland Security, at a time of national acrimony over the Second Amendments, believes it is an opportune moment to stockpile gargantuan amounts of ammunition—again, a sort of force multiplier in ensuring panic buying.
Are You a Correct Citizen?
So we are in unchartered territory. The IRS has lost our trust, both for its rank partisanship and its inability to come forward and explain its crimes. Eric Holder wants us to believe that he has no idea why his office was monitoring the communications of journalists, and yet now warrants the renewed trust of the president. Susan Rice serially misled on national television about Benghazi and so will probably be promoted to national security advisor. Even the Washington Post has decided that the president was lying in his defense about Benghazi (albeit with the funny sort of childhood rating of “four Pinocchios”) after the president’s team serially blamed the violence on an internet video, while the president simultaneously claimed that he also identified the crime immediately as a terrorist hit.
On campuses, the Departments of Justice and Education have issued new race/class/gender guidelines that would effectively deny constitutionally protected free speech in universities, a sort of politically correct idea that proper thinking is preferable to free thinking.
If you oppose “comprehensive immigration reform” you become a nativist or worse—and apparently are one of the “enemies” the president wants to “punish.” The president just condemned American guns that wind up in Mexico–implying right-wingers opposed his own remedies of new gun control and neglecting to mention that his own Fast and Furious operation sold thousands of lethal weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
The end of the revolving doors, lobbyists, and non-transparency resulted in Jack Lew—recipient of a $1 million bonus from Citibank as it both lost money and gulped down federal bailout money—taking over from the tax-dodger Timothy Geithner as our new Treasury secretary to oversee the new IRS. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is now pumping corporations for money to help spread the gospel about how eager we are for the implementation of Obamacare, as the government now sort of freelances on its own—the federal equivalent of California Highway Patrol officers suddenly ubiquitous along our roadsides ticketing in a frenzy, in fear of their bankrupt state pension funds.
What happens to a corporation that says “nope” to Sebelius? An IRS audit? Phone monitoring? Presidential denunciation as a “fat cat”? Talking points? Harry Reid taking to the floor to claim it had not paid its fair share in taxes?
Government has become a sort of malignant metasisizing tumor, growing on its own, parasitical on healthy cells, always searching for new sources of nourishment, its purpose nothing other than growing bigger and faster and more powerful—until the exhausted host collapses. We have a sunshine king and our government has become a sort of virtual Versailles palace.
I suppose that when a presidential candidate urges his supporters to get in someone’s face, and to take a gun to a knife fight, from now on you better believe him. And, finally, the strangest thing about nearing the threshold of 1984? It comes with a whimper, not a bang, with a charismatic smile and mellifluous nonsense—with politically correct, egalitarian-minded bureaucrats with glasses and iPhones instead of fist-shaking jack-booted thugs.
So what can we teach the Muslim world? How to be gluttons?
Another sign of decline is the proliferation of food shows, The U. S. of Bacon being one of them. A big fat 'foody' roams the land in quest of diners and dives that put bacon into everything. As something of a trencherman back in the day, I understand the lure of the table. But I am repelled by the spiritual vacuity of those who wax ecstatic over some greasy piece of crud they have just eaten, or speak of some edible item as 'to die for.'
It is natural for a beast to be bestial, but not for a man. He must degrade and denature himself, and that only a spiritual being can do. Freely degrading himself, he becomes like a beast thereby proving that he is -- more than a beast.
Senator John McCain is for it. Victor Davis Hanson is against it. VDH has the better case, as it seems to me.
The further expenditure of American blood and treasure "to teach locals not to be their tribal selves" (VDH) is a losing proposition. We are in deep trouble domestically, and we are going to teach benighted Middle Eastern tribalists how to live? How has that worked out in the past? And with our trash culture of empty celebrity, an entertainment industry that resembles an open sewer, fiscal irresponsibility, ever-widening political divisions, and a panem-et-circenses populace, we are not exactly role models to anyone any more.
Yesterday I said that there are some decent liberals. Having listened to a good chunk of a three-hour C-SPAN 2 interview with Chris Hedges this morning, I would say he is a good example of one. On some issues he agrees with conservatives, pornography being one of them. Both liberals and libertarians have to lot to answer for on this score. That the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment could be so tortured as to justify pornography shows their lack of common sense and basic moral sense. This is made worse by the absurd interpretation they put upon the Establishment Clause of the same amendment which they take as sanctioning the complete expulsion of religion from the public square when it is religion that delivers in popular form the morality the absence of which allows the spread of soul-destroying pornography. Hedges has the sense, uncommon on the Left, to understand that the spread of this rot is a major factor in our decline as a nation.
The Victims of Pornography is a an excerpt from his latest book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. (What a great title!)
And another thing. If liberals care about women, how can they defend pornography? Apparently they care only up to the point where it would cost them some agreement with conservatives who they hate more than they love women. Similarly, liberals are all for women, so long as they are not conservative women, as witness the unspeakably vicious attacks on Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. Ed Schultz, prime-time scumbag, the other night was mocking Michelle Bachmann and gloating over her withdrawal from the presidential race. If he had an ounce of decency he would have praised her for being in the arena and participating courageously in the grueling process while respectfully disagreeing with her positions. But respect and decency are what you cannot expect from leftist scum of his ilk. You think my calling him a scumbag is too harsh? Then read this.