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.