In modern times, “truthiness” — a “truth” asserted “from the gut” or because “it feels right,” without regard to evidence or logic5 — is also a key part of political discourse. It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.
After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.
Everybody knows that the economy is better off under [Republican/Democratic]6 presidents — who control it directly with big levers in the Oval Office — and that:
President Obama is a Muslim.
President Obama is a Communist.
President Obama was born in Kenya.
Nearly half of Americans pay no taxes.7
One percent of Americans control 99 percent of the world’s wealth.
Obamacare will create death panels.
Republicans oppose immigration reform because they’re racists.
The Supreme Court is a purely political body that is evangelically [liberal/conservative].8
All of the above statements could be considered “truthy,” yet all contribute to our political discourse.
5. Wikipedia.com, Truthiness, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness (last visited Feb. 28, 2014) (describing the term’s coinage by Stephen Colbert during the pilot of his show in October 2005). See also Dictionary.com, Truthiness, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/truthiness (last visited Feb. 28, 2014).
6. Circle as appropriate.
7. 47 percent to be exact, though it may be higher by now.
8. Again, pick your truth.
Ilya Shapiro and P.J. O’Rourke, BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE CATO INSTITUTE AND P.J. O’ROURKE IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONERS, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus [PDF], 2014-02-28
March 5, 2014
March 4, 2014
… incrementally all these tiny tesserae began forming a mosaic, fairly or not, of the Obama administration as either weak or clueless or perhaps both.
Accordingly, Mr. Putin, in empirical fashion, after factoring in the rhetoric and the facts, has decided that it is time, in the fashion of 1979–80, to move with probable impunity. Others are, of course, watching what Obama derides as Cold War chess games. Should Iran now go full bore on its nuclear program? Should China test Japanese waters and airspace a bit more aggressively? Should North Korea try to gain new concessions from its nuclear lunacy? Should the failed Communists of Latin America try forcibly exporting their miseries to neighbors? And all are operating on the shared assumption that the American reaction will be another “outrageous,” “unacceptable,” “don’t cross this line,” or another solemn Kerry lecture about the existential threats of global warming.
For some, like the now furrow-browed Europeans who once giddily lapped up the Victory Column pabulum, there is irony. For the Baltic states, Georgians, the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, the Japanese, the Taiwanese, and the South Koreans, there is increased anxiety about regional strains of Putinism spreading to their own backyards. And among our allies such as the British, Israelis, Canadians, and Australians, there is still polite bewilderment.
This will probably end in either two ways: Either Barack Obama will have his 1980 Jimmy Carter revelatory moment as something like an “Obama Doctrine,” or we could see some pretty scary things in the next three years as regional thugs cash in their chips and begin readjusting the map in their areas of would-be influence.
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Stepping Stones to the Ukraine Crisis”, VDH’s Private Papers, 2014-03-03
March 2, 2014
The thesis of the article was simple: though the content of schizophrenic delusions changes wildly in different cultural contexts, there’s an underlying motivation for them that never varies and produces a fundamental sameness.
The simple, constant thing is that delusional schizophrenics lose the capability to identify all the thoughts in their head as belonging to themselves. In an effort to make sense of their experience, they invent elaborate theories which attribute their disconnected thoughts to external agencies. Gods, demons, orbital mind-control lasers — the content of such delusions varies wildly, but the function is always the same — to restore a sense of causal order to the schizophrenic’s universe, to impose a narrative on the eruptions that he or she can no longer recognize as “self”.
It’s a startling shift in perspective to realize that the construction of schizophrenic delusions arises from the same drive that yields scientific theory-building. Both are Heideggerian rearrangements of the cognitive toolkit, strategies driven by the necessity of coping with the experienced world. The schizophrenic’s tragedy is that the most important fact about his or her experiential world (how much of it is self looking at self) is inaccessible.
Eric S. Raymond, “Sometimes I hear voices”, Armed and Dangerous, 2013-10-06
March 1, 2014
Let us go back. Why did I waste two hours, or maybe three, reading those idiotic manuscripts? Why, in the first place, did I answer her opening request the request, so inherently absurd, that I meet her in her father’s office? For a very plain reason: she accompanied it with flattery. What she said, in effect, was that she regarded me as a critic of the highest talents, and this ludicrous cajolery sound, I dare say, in substance, but reduced to naught by her obvious obscurity and stupidity was quite enough to fetch me. In brief, she assumed that, being a man, I was vain to the point of imbecility, and this assumption was correct, as it always is. To help out, there was the concept of romantic adventure vaguely floating in my mind. Her voice, as I heard it by telephone, was agreeable; her appearance, since she seemed eager to show herself, I probably judged (subconsciously) to be at least not revolting. Thus curiosity got on its legs, and vanity in another form. Am I fat and half decrepit, a man seldom noticed by cuties? Then so much the more reason why I should respond. The novelty of an apparently comely and respectable woman desiring to witness me finished what the primary (and very crude) appeal to my vanity had begun. I was, in brief, not only the literary popinjay but also the eternal male and hard at the immemorial folly of the order.
H.L. Mencken, “Scientific Examination of a Popular Virtue”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.
February 25, 2014
We assign 20 extra IQ points to anyone who speaks with a British accent, redistributing them from the people who speak with Southern accents.
Dave Weigel, “Shut Up, Piers: Thank goodness Piers Morgan Live is dead. Finally.”, Slate, 2014-02-24
February 24, 2014
While working-class left-wing political activism was always about fighting the powerful, treating people how you would wish to be treated and believing that we’re all basically the same, modern, non-working-class left-wing politics is about… other stuff. Class guilt, sexual kinks, personal prejudice and repressed lust for power. The trade union movement gave us brother Bill Morris and Mrs Desai; the diversity movement has given us a rainbow coalition of cranks and charlatans. Which has, in turn, has given us intersectionality.
Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination’, which seems rather mature and dignified. In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. Think of all those episodes of Jerry Springer where two women who look like Victoria’s Secret models — one black, one white — bitch-fight over a man who resembles a Jerusalem artichoke, sitting smugly in the middle, and you have the end result of intersectionality made all too foul flesh. It may have been intended as a way for disabled women of colour to address such allegedly white-ableist-feminist-specific issues as equal pay, but it’s ended up as a screaming, squawking, grievance-hawking shambles.
The supreme irony of intersectionality is that it both barracks ‘traditional’ feminists for ignoring the issues of differently abled and differently ethnic women while at the same time telling them they have no right to discuss them because they don’t understand them — a veritable Pushmi-Pullyu of a political movement. Entering the crazy world of intersectionality is quite like being locked in a hall of mirrors with a borderline personality disorder coach party. ‘Stop looking at me funny! Why are you ignoring me? Go away, I hate you! Come back, how dare you reject me!’ It’s politics, Jim, but certainly not as my dear old dad knew it.
February 23, 2014
What is one to think of a man so asinine that he looks for gratitude in this world, or so puerilely egotistical that he enjoys it when found? The truth is that the sentiment itself is not human but doggish, and that the man who demands it in payment for his doings is precisely the sort of man who feels noble and distinguished when a dog licks his hand. What a man says when he expresses gratitude is simply this: “You did something for me that I could not have done myself. Ergo, you are my superior. Hail, Durchlaucht!” Such a confession, whether true or not, is degrading to the confessor, and so it is very hard to make, at all events for a man of self-respect. That is why such a man always makes it clumsily and with many blushes and hesitations. It is hard for him to put so embarrassing a doctrine into plain words. And that is why the business is equally uncomfortable to the party of the other part. It distresses him to see a human being of decent instincts standing before him in so ignominious a position. He is as flustered as if the fellow came in handcuffs, or in rags, or wearing the stripes of a felon. Moreover, his confusion is helped out by his inward knowledge very clear if he is introspective, and plain enough even if he is not that he really deserves no such tribute to his high mightiness; that the altruism for which he is being praised was really bogus; that he did the thing behind the gratitude which now assails him, not for any grand and lofty reason, but for a purely selfish and inferior reason, to wit, for the reason that it pleases all of us to show what we can do when an appreciative audience is present; that we delight to exercise our will to power when it is safe and profitable. This is the primary cause of the benefits which inspire gratitude, real and pretended. This is the fact at the bottom of altruism. Find me a man who is always doing favors for people and I will show you a man of petty vanity, forever trying to get fuel for it in the cheapest way. And find me a man who is notoriously grateful in habit and I’ll show you a man who is essentially third rate and who is conscious of it at the bottom of his heart. The man of genuine self-respect which means the man who is more or less accurately aware, not only of his own value, but also and more importantly, of his own limitations tries to avoid entering either class. He hesitates to demonstrate his superiority by such banal means, and he shrinks from confessing an inferiority that he doesn’t believe in.
H.L. Mencken, “Scientific Examination of a Popular Virtue”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.
February 21, 2014
February 19, 2014
Even as a child, I was vaguely annoyed by the LEGO kits that allowed you to recreate something you’d seen on TV or in the movies. The greatest thing about LEGOs is that you can use them to build anything your imagination can create. Castles, cars, airplanes, you name it: If you had the blocks and a mild spark of ingenuity, you could do just about any damn thing you pleased.
But the LEGOification of every aspect of popular culture is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the triumph of imagination. This ideal asks you to take something endlessly changeable and shove it into a tiny mental space already dominated by every other facet of popular culture. It’s a perversion of the LEGO ideal, a slap in the face of everyone who grew up tinkering with their building blocks in the hope of creating something new and exciting, something just for themselves or their friends.
Also, if you could get off my lawn, that would be great.
Sonny Bunch, “Knock It Off with the LEGOs, Jerks”, Washington Free Beacon, 2014-02-19
February 17, 2014
I listen to the strangest assortment of music.
No, I’m not trying to tell you I’m a hipster, bustin’ a moby at the table saw while only listening to totally deck obscure artisanal free-range amazeballs beats. That would be so midtown. I just find myself interested in odd things.
Sippican Cottage, “I Like Puddles Pity Party’s Early Stuff. You Probably Haven’t Heard Of Them”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-02-16
February 16, 2014
There was in the man a certain instinctive antipathy to the concrete aristocrat and in particular to the aristocrat’s private code — the product, no doubt, of his essentially bourgeois origin and training. But if he could not go with the Junkers all the way, he could at least go the whole length of their distrust of the third order — the undifferentiated masses of men below. Here, I daresay, he owed a lot to Nietzsche. He was always reading German books, and among them, no doubt, were Also sprach Zarathustra and Jenseits von Gut und Bose. In fact, the echoes were constantly sounding in his own harangues. Years ago, as an intellectual exercise while confined to hospital, I devised and printed a give-away of the Rooseveltian philosophy in parallel columns — in one column, extracts from The Strenuous Life; in the other, extracts from Nietzsche. The borrowings were numerous and unescapable. Theodore had swallowed Friedrich as a peasant swallows Peruna — bottle, cork, label and testimonials. Worse, the draft whetted his appetite, and soon he was swallowing the Kaiser of the Garde-Kavallerie-mess and battleship-launching speeches — another somewhat defective Junker. In his palmy days it was often impossible to distinguish his politico-theological bulls from those of Wilhelm; during the war, indeed, I suspect that some of them were boldly lifted by the British press bureau, and palmed off as felonious imprudences out of Potsdam. Wilhelm was his model in Weltpolitik, and in sociology, exegetics, administration, law, sport and connubial polity no less. Both roared for doughty armies, eternally prepared — for the theory that the way to prevent war is to make all conceivable enemies think twice, thrice, ten times. Both dreamed of gigantic navies, with battleships as long as Brooklyn Bridge. Both preached incessantly the duty of the citizen to the state, with the soft pedal upon the duty of the state to the citizen. Both praised the habitually gravid wife. Both delighted in the armed pursuit of the lower fauna. Both heavily patronized the fine arts. Both were intimates of God, and announced His desires with authority. Both believed that all men who stood opposed to them were prompted by the devil and would suffer for it in hell.
If, in fact, there was any difference between them, it was all in favor of Wilhelm. For one thing, he made very much fewer speeches; it took some colossal event, such as the launching of a dreadnaught or the birthday of a colonel-general, to get him upon his legs; the Reichstag was not constantly deluged with his advice and upbraiding. For another thing, he was a milder and more modest man — one more accustomed, let us say, to circumstance and authority, and hence less intoxicated by the greatness of his state. Finally, he had been trained to think, not only of his own immediate fortunes, but also of the remote interests of a family that, in his most expansive days, promised to hold the throne for many years, and so he cultivated a certain prudence, and even a certain ingratiating suavity. He could, on occasion, be extremely polite to an opponent. But Roosevelt was never polite to an opponent; perhaps a gentleman, by American standards, he was surely never a gentle man. In a political career of nearly forty years he was never even fair to an opponent. All of his gabble about the square deal was merely so much protective coloration, easily explicable on elementary Freudian grounds. No man, facing Roosevelt in the heat of controversy, ever actually got a square deal. He took extravagant advantages; he played to the worst idiocies of the mob; he hit below the belt almost habitually. One never thinks of him as a duelist, say of the school of Disraeli, Palmerston and, to drop a bit, Blaine. One always thinks of him as a glorified longshoreman engaged eternally in cleaning out bar-rooms — and not too proud to gouge when the inspiration came to him, or to bite in the clinches, or to oppose the relatively fragile brass knuckles of the code with chair-legs, bung-starters, cuspidors, demijohns, and ice-picks.
Abbott and Thayer, in their books, make elaborate efforts to depict their hero as one born with a deep loathing of the whole Prussian scheme of things, and particularly of the Prussian technique in combat. Abbott even goes so far as to hint that the attentions of the Kaiser, during Roosevelt’s historic tour of Europe on his return from Africa, were subtly revolting to him. Nothing could be more absurd. Prof. Dr. Sherman, in the article I have mentioned, blows up that nonsense by quoting from a speech made by the tourist in Berlin — a speech arguing for the most extreme sort of militarism in a manner that must have made even some of the Junkers blow their noses dubiously. The disproof need not be piled up; the America that Roosevelt dreamed of was always a sort of swollen Prussia, truculent without and regimented within. There was always a clank of the saber in his discourse; he could not discuss the tamest matter without swaggering in the best dragoon fashion.
H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, part 2, 1920.
February 15, 2014
I remember a friend of mine, buying a couple of cheeses at Liverpool. Splendid cheeses they were, ripe and mellow, and with a two hundred horse-power scent about them that might have been warranted to carry three miles, and knock a man over at two hundred yards. I was in Liverpool at the time, and my friend said that if I didn’t mind he would get me to take them back with me to London, as he should not be coming up for a day or two himself, and he did not think the cheeses ought to be kept much longer.
“Oh, with pleasure, dear boy,” I replied, “with pleasure.”
I called for the cheeses, and took them away in a cab. It was a ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed, broken-winded somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of enthusiasm, during conversation, referred to as a horse. I put the cheeses on the top, and we started off at a shamble that would have done credit to the swiftest steam-roller ever built, and all went merry as a funeral bell, until we turned the corner. There, the wind carried a whiff from the cheeses full on to our steed. It woke him up, and, with a snort of terror, he dashed off at three miles an hour. The wind still blew in his direction, and before we reached the end of the street he was laying himself out at the rate of nearly four miles an hour, leaving the cripples and stout old ladies simply nowhere.
It took two porters as well as the driver to hold him in at the station; and I do not think they would have done it, even then, had not one of the men had the presence of mind to put a handkerchief over his nose, and to light a bit of brown paper.
From Crewe I had the compartment to myself, though the train was crowded. As we drew up at the different stations, the people, seeing my empty carriage, would rush for it. “Here y’ are, Maria; come along, plenty of room.” “All right, Tom; we’ll get in here,” they would shout. And they would run along, carrying heavy bags, and fight round the door to get in first. And one would open the door and mount the steps, and stagger back into the arms of the man behind him; and they would all come and have a sniff, and then drop off and squeeze into other carriages, or pay the difference and go first.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.
February 14, 2014
Readers who are all too familiar with popular works on anthropology may be interested to learn that some recent investigations have involved a completely novel approach. The ordinary anthropologist is one who spends six weeks or six months (or even sometimes six years) among, say, the Boreyu tribe at their settlement on the Upper Teedyas River, Darndreeryland. He then returns to civilization with his photographs, tape recorders, and notebooks, eager to write his book about sex life and superstition. For tribes such as the Boreyu, life is made intolerable by all this peering and prying. They often become converts to Presbyterianism in the belief that they will thereupon cease to be of interest to anthropologists; nor in fact has this device been known to fail. But enough primitive people remain for the purposes of science. Books continue to multiply, and when the last tribe has resorted to the singing of hymns in self-defense, there are still the poor of the backstreets. These are perpetually pursued by questionnaire, camera, and phonograph; and the written results are familiar to us all.
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Palm Thatch To Packard Or A Formula For Success”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
February 11, 2014
Thanks for calling the National Security Agency. Press 1 for a blanket denial. Whatever you heard, it’s not true. Press 2 to hear a transcript of every call you’ve ever made. Press 3 to confess. If you haven’t done anything, that’s OK, the NSA treats everyone like a criminal. Press 4 to have your tax money used to violate your privacy. Press 5 to hear these options again.
Gregg Easterbrook, “Are the Chiefs real or opportunistic?”, ESPN Tuesday Morning Quarterback, 2013-10-29