None the Wiser

"Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think." --J.S. Mill

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Friday, July 18, 2003
A Moral Call to Arms

In this somewhat long but nontheless magnificent piece, Fiamma Niernstein discusses the new anti-Semitism, as manifested through anti-Israeli rhetoric, and calls on Jews everythwere to reclaim their own moral conviction from those on the left who have tried to appropriate their legacy.

A brilliant article, in every respect. It's quotable as it can be, but I don't want to discourage anyone from reading it in its entirety. Do take the time to read it.

Oh, Come On.

Maybe this is a standard practice these days, and maybe I'm just too much of an old codger to realize it. Maybe I need to get out more.

But just now, I came upon what has to be the most asinine bit of PC verbal tap-dancing I've ever seen in my life. OK, maybe not the absolute most, but definitely among the most.

I just got back from what passes for Indiana University's food court. It began innocently enough, as these sorts of encounters always do. One bake shop in particular has good chocolate chip cookies, so I stopped in there to grab some for Melody and myself. I noticed one of the little pastry trays in the glass display case was empty and, since my eye was wandering there anyway, I happened to look at what the sold-out goody was. The label read, and I'm not making this up:

Gingerbread Person.

Person. Now, I have a notoriously low tolerance for this kind of nonsense. But I can understand the chagrin of some truculent and touchy feminists (is there any other kind) who would like us all to refer to "spokespeople" and "salespeople." I think it's petty and unnecessary, but whatever. I can grasp the idea that there exists no longer a legitimate assumption that any given salesman or spokesman is literally a man. "He" might in fact be a "she." Though I must observe this: Since feminists also push the rather absurd idea that gender is a social construct and/or that there are five human genders, one must wonder why any offense should be taken in the first place, since the use of the suffix "woman" would therefore be just as arbitrary and presumptuous, wouldn't it?

But I can play along.

There exists a point in this pathetic little game, on the other hand, beyond which I refuse to venture. Is there really any chance that you're going to bite into a gingerbread man and discover that you've been decieved--that what you thought was a gingerbread man was actually a gingerbread woman? Is there any real assumption at work here that the cookie actually has a gender? Am I crazy, or is this the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard?

Why am I spending my time on thinking about it? Principle, I guess you could say. But the real question is: Who really got so worked up about gingerbread cookies that they felt this change was needed? It occurs to me they could have labeled them "Gingerbread Cookies" instead, and avoided the reference to personhood altogether. They didn't. And you know why? They wanted to be sure everyone knew that the change had been made in the first place.

That was the whole point. To be certain that everyone knew how wrong it was ever to have referred to gingerbread men as, well, men. Even though nobody was ever at any time under the impression that it mattered.

Until now.

I mean, at the end of the day, Gingerbread Man isn't exactly a position of authority or respect in our society. Of course, now that we've recognized the full genderbread spectrum, maybe they will finally get their rightful due.

The (Kraut) Hammer Is At It Again

Charles Krauthammer gets in what, in a saner world, would be the final word on the Niger nonsense.

Blair's Speech

Yeah, I watched it yesterday. It was stirring in places, and yes, there was that classic Grim Resolve thing going on. Blah, blah. Everyone has praised it up and down. And while it's true, as Sully points out, that no contemporary American leftist could ever make so rousing a defense of liberty and keep his job, can we at least agree that it was nonetheless a thoroughly leftist speech, full of mealy-mouthed contradictions and self-flagellating exasperation? His fear seems as much to be a lack of order as anything else. His message: Unity, unity, unity, order, order, order. This is a man imploring the rest of us to join him--join Europe--join the world!!--join anything rather than submit to chaos.

But chaos is not the greatest threat to our liberty. "Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order." I still believe this. I worry about enslavement, not the vague threat of terrorism generally.

Furthermore, though everyone seems to have liked this bit, I have a problem with this:

There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia's savior. Members of Congress, ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit, and anywhere -- (applause) -- anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police.

This refusal to credit Western Civilization with the most comprehensive and sweeping conception of political freedom and personal liberty--and make no mistake, these are Western values--is symptomatic of a mushy kind of multi-culti cultural relativism. Tony's--and the Left's generally--is a worldview that rejects the uniqueness and, ultimately, the very legitimacy, of Western individualism. There is no Near Eastern Adam Smith. There is no Far Eastern Thomas Jefferson. There is no South American Rene Descartes.

It's true that everyone, at bottom, is built with a love of freedom. But it is decidedly not the case that all peoples, plural, and all civilizations value freedom in the way that we do. I am simply astonished that anyone could say with a straight face that our attachment to freedom is not a product of our culture. This is obviously absurd, and it evinces a distinctly socialist view of Western Civilization as unspectacular, and of our liberty as either a sham or the mere product of good fortune.

This is not a man who understands the literature of his own people at all. Greek Democracy, Protestantism, the Renaissance, the French and American Revolutions, Emerson, Whitman--none of these things have anything to do with our attachment to liberty? Blind luck put us here? What is the equivalent story of the quest for liberty in Iran?

What Western Democracy has lately led a revolution to install a theocracy? If this view is to be believed, there ought to be liberal democracies with British conceptions of the rule of law all over the globe--but there aren't.

No, Tony belongs to the Cosmopolitan School of human rights, which sees nothing unusual in the Western tradition of respect for individual freedom, and is therefore very quick to toss it aside in the quest for Cosmic Justice, as Thomas Sowell would surely put it. It is furthermore simply ahistorical to believe that "anytime" people are given a choice, they choose freedom, as we understand it. The counterexamples to this are so overwhelming, I can't believe anyone actually bought this line.

What Tony and his adoring legions avert their attention from is the fact that "ordinary people" ARE the secret police. Hitler himself was an historically significant, talented, but in most ways entirely unexceptional man. And the masses themselves, all over Europe, rather recently turned out by the millions to give succor to Saddam Hussein, choosing a Baathist terror state over the possibility of American preeminence.

Sorry, I'm not buying what he's selling.

Anyone who spends any amount of time following the machinations of Blair and his cohorts in the UK itself will find him to be no friend of liberty. He has tossed Western liberalism to the side, and betrayed utterly the traditions of consensual government in Britain, in favor of a self-promoting scheme to capture the EU presidency. The EU itself is a profoundly anti-classical institution that speaks the language of "universal" human rights, "universal" taxation, "universal" jurisdiction--the language of collectivism and anti-particularism whose role in this world is always and everywhere to undermine and erode the reality of political, social, and economic liberty, all the while singing its praises. It accomplishes this by rejecting, in Gramscian fashion, the notion that the specifically Western preoccupation with freedom is sacred, a singular gift to humanity, and that we in the West are the inheritors of a most rare and special intellectual birthright--and the bearers of a great and privileged responsibility.

Beware the honey tongue of Tony Blair. Not only his blood, but his very soul runs red, and the truth of it is right there in this speech for those willing to see it, for those not too blinded by his ego-stroking, fawning sycophancy, for those not so eager for an ally in this our War on Terror. He is the head of New Labor, the mastermind of the Third Way. Never forget this.

And don't even get me started on Kyoto and "sustainable development"...

UPDATE: One other thing must be said. Exactly what is the realtionship between "political liberty is a Wetsern value" and "Milosevic was Serbia's savior"? Huh!? I'm not sure how that second part fits into the "myth," as he would have it, but it seems like an intentional smear, a delibertaely dishonest non sequitir, to equate the two ideas in any way. Maybe I'm being too picky. Maybe he was referring to all those people who think it is arrogant to "impose" out ideas of liberty on others. Maybe that's the more charitable interpretation. But in Blair's case, I'm not inclined to be very charitable.

Nordlinger En Fuego

After a rather disappointing run of Impromptus columns lately, Nordlinger is back in top form today, with a piece packed so full of wit and style it just makes me smile. It includes this:

But how about this? The motto proposed for the EU is "United in Diversity" — again, a perfect nonsense phrase for this age. "United in Diversity" means precisely . . . nothing. These are just syllables crafted to soothe the contemporary ear, an ear increasingly dead, I'm afraid, to real meaning.

In language, as in most things, less is more. And Jay is a virtuoso of language. Read it.

Thursday, July 17, 2003
White-Hot Blog Entry Alert

Erin O'connor--all the blessings of God's grace be upon her--has penned another absolutely exceptional musing (it is too eloquent to be dismissed as a "rant") on the state of her own academic field, English Literature. O'connor is without question one of the future bright lights of her discipline, and her honest humility, combined with a conspicuous gift for the written word, makes her a must-read for anyone remotely interested in the worlds of knowledge and of culture.

She directs us today to an interview with the Great One of lit crit, Harold Bloom. It's worth checking out, but equally wonderful is Erin's own rumination on the subject:

I'm a bit of an oddball, having been trained by an intermediary generation of ideologues to be a theoretical clone (genus: cultural studies; species: body critic). Academically, I was raised to belong to the Rabblement of Lemmings. For a number of years, without fully realizing it, I rabbled along lemming-like, thinking that what I was doing was scholarly. I finally figured things out, but I would never have done so alone. I was lucky. I met someone with a shit detector and no fear. He let me know that academically, I was full of shit. I crapped on him for it for years. It was easier thus. But I eventually managed to put my considerable pride in a box where it belonged and began to undergo the humbling process of realizing just what a foolish parody of a scholar I was. No matter that this was what I had been trained to be and rewarded for being: you don't feel less a fool for realizing that everyone around you is one too.

I'll save the rest for you to read for yourself.

Erin, from a long-suffering Child of the Revolution, thank you.

How Pathetic

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Andrew Sullivan, though talented and always a joy to read, is utterly incapable of clear and rational thought on the issues that most personally concern him. Moreover, he is probably more careless with words than any other "conservative" pundit of his stature (and no, I don't think Ann Coulter is of his stature).

In this one post (scroll down to Natural Law Update) he: 1) refers to social conservatives' "hostility to consensual sex," as though they only accept non-consensual sex as legitimate; and 2) fires off what has to be his hyper-emotional nonsequitir of the month: namely, that the recent scientific claim that masturbation reduces the threat of prostate cancer debunks natural law theory, all by its little lonesome.

For those of you who don't study moral philosophy, and have never read Aquinas, it doesn't. Natural law theory does not include as a part of its "burden of legitimacy" that an act must have no potentially beneficial outcomes to qualify as being functionally appropriate or "natural." After all, the study in question does not demonstrate that the entire purpose of ejaculation in men is to maintain healthy prostates. That would seem to reduce the whole of human reproductive functioning, and therefore the whole existence of the human species, to a mere engine for the preservation of the almighty prostate.

No, all it says is that this particular activity can have some unintended (and heretofore entirely unsuspected) positive consequence. And unless natural law is understood to be a kind of "dark matter utilitarianism" that requires all moral conduct to be self-destructive or at least without some discernible benefit, this is completely irrelevant.

This latest study is completely without consequence to the essentials of natural law theory. I'm not an adherent to the theory myself, and I think there are lots of very obvious problems with it, but the relationship of masturbation to cancer rates is definitely not among them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Still Hamstrung

I'm still waiting for my new modem to arrive, so posting will continue to be intermittent for a couple of days.

In non-blogging news, I appear to be set to move to Indianapolis in just under a month. And counting.

My house is presently in that state of chaos that always intensifies in the weeks before a big move. Half my stuff is in boxes, the other half slowly becoming scattered and stacked. My tiny apartment has taken on that rat-maze quality. My wife and I are starting to squeeze past each other on our way to or from this or that room (there are only a few anyway), and I spend lots of time pacing around with a vague sense of distraction. I want either to pack or unpack. The waiting is getting a bit excruciating, and if you've ever lived in Bloomington, Indiana, you can probably sympathize.

So there's a sense of abstract business about the house, and it's impossible, whereas before it was just difficult, to relax. The move really can't come soon enough, just so I can have my office back. ("Your office?" you ask? Ah, therein lies the rub. That room, you see, is supposed to be a bedroom. It is, instead, our office space, just big enough for our respective desks and not quite big enough for all our books and papers. You haven't lived until you've slept on your own couch for a year. Priorities.)

Once there, I can take advantage of my newly-acquired grants and get a new computer, some socks, and maybe even some school-related items, like books or something. I'll also be a lot closer to my friend Dr. Lyons, and his lovely wife Anouk. It will be nice to live near somebody I actually like. As opposed to tens of thousands of people I don't.

In the meantime, I'll be trying to catch up on all the summer reading I should have been doing while I was drinking beer by the pool. On that list is Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, and as much of Yergin's The Prize as humanly possible. I'll also be flying to Jacksonville in August, and driving back.

Almost sounds like work, but I've got a lot to be excited about, and thankful for.

More later...

Monday, July 14, 2003
"You Are Hated Here"

That's Merde in France's melancholy, if somewhat obvious, assessment of French attitudes toward America and Americans.

This is a topic all of us ought to care about, but few people seem to be taking it seriously. Merde is a pretty excellent and reliable source of information of the French media--which he tirelessly chronicles--and its predisposition toward anti-Americanism. This isn't subtle bias, folks, of the 43rd Street variety. Be aware that state-owned media in France is frighteningly saturated with what can only be classified as hate literature--most of it directed at the U.S. and, more reliably, Israel.

We in the States tend to laugh off suggestions of this type as paranoia, or at worst an acurate depiction of what must surely be a temporary and generally harmless "phase." It isn't. A daily scouring of European press reveals a hostility towards all things American bordering on hysteria that would be totally alien and ultimately unprintable in any respected American news source.

I plan to make my career in Eastern Europe myself, so there's little doubt I'll be exposed to quite as much of this as I can handle. It's no reason to stay away, but people really ought to be informed as to how our nation is depicted in foreign media. The relatively mild outburst of anti-French feeling here in the States, while still not totally abated, seems very much like a kind of "bump in the road" in what is really business as usual. Americans don't take themselves very seriously, as compared to other peoples around the world, and we're pretty willing to blithely swallow the French diplomatic line on all of this--a mere disagreement between friends, and so forth.

We assume this is outlook is universal, and that in fact the French embassy here speaks for the average French politician or even the average Parisian street vendor (properly licensed and bonded, of course). Our own officials have every interest in fostering this perception, since to fail in that would be to fail in the very mission of the State Department (as some see it), which is to smooth over our relations whenevever necessary.

Don't share in this hallucination. Sources like Merde and MEMRI are indespensible. Use them.

The Sociology of Raines

The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid goes off-topic a bit today by fisking the now widely-fisked Howell Raines-Charlie Rose interview. The interview itself is something of a love-fest, and others have commented already on the evident delusion of Howell. What caught my attention was this bit:

"HOWELL RAINES: What no one has reported is what the story was actually about, which is I wanted a story about the sociology of a -- that's going on in the country where we have an industry that picks a sexually precious looking young woman, lifts her out of obscurity, elevates her to a level of wealth and acclaim far in excess perhaps to her talents and then drops her like that. That says something about the sociology of the country. It says something about the business of this country -- the record business, the entertainment business -- and it speaks to -- it speaks a language the language of style and culture that the people in this country under 35 are speaking. They know a world that a sophisticated reader of the New York Times need it's be exposed to, so the Britney Spears was a sociological story..."

OK, maybe it's just me, but is it seems to me that there isn't a leftist alive who is capable of an accurate reading of either human nature or those parts of it most often sublimated through culture.

Could it be that the phenomenon that Raines is describing has less to do with the record business than with our attitudes towards women as sexual beings? He's damn right is says something about the language that people under 35 are speaking. Specifically, it says that people under 35 will latch onto an attractive woman, get all the thrills they can squeeze out of her, and toss her aside when they've tired of her. Prevailing popular culture indoctrinates young girls into thinking of themselves as flavors of the month--we call this process liberation--while boys need only license, not any real encouragement, to think this way.

This is the mindset encouraged by our present attitudes about sex in general. Why would our attitudes toward sex objects be any different? Raines, of course, sees this as some kind of indictment of the recording industry, as though the industry did not simply respond to the whims of its customers--meaning the rest of us. Typical of all social leftists, Raines has cause, effect, means, and ends all mixed up.