Quotulatiousness

October 20, 2017

QotD: Culture wars of the 20th century

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[Libertarians have] always been strong on analysis and criticism. We have our philosophers and economists and historians, and these are among the best. We aren’t wholly without our novelists and musicians and artists. There’s you. There’s Heinlein. There’s Rand. There are many others.

But we haven’t so far put cultural production at the top of our list of things to do. It’s been treated as barely even secondary to uncovering and explaining the workings of a natural order. So far as this has been the case, however, it’s been a big mistake. There’s little benefit in preaching to an audience that doesn’t understand why your message is important.

The socialist takeover of the English mind during the early 20th century was only in part the achievement of the Webbs and J.A. Hobson and E.H. Carr and Harold Laski and Douglas Jay, and all the others of their kind. They were important, and if they hadn’t written as they did, there would have been no takeover. But for every one who read these, there were tens or hundreds who read and were captured by Shaw and Wells and Galsworthy and Richard Llewellyn, among others. These were men who transmitted the socialist cases to a much wider audience.

Just as importantly, where they did not directly transmit, they helped bring about a change in the climate of opinion so that propositions that were rejected out of hand by most thoughtful men in the 1890s could become the received wisdom of the 1940s. They achieved a similar effect in the United States, and were supplemented there by writers like Howard Fast, and, of course, by the Hollywood film industry.

More recently in England, the effect of television soap operas like Eastenders has been immense and profound. Their writers have taken the dense and often incomprehensible writings of the neo-Marxists and presented them as a set of hidden assumptions that have transformed the English mind since 1980. No one can fully explain the Labour victory of 1997, or the ease with which law and administration were transformed even before them, without reference to popular culture.

Though I’ll say outright that she’s never been one of my favourites, there’s no doubt that Ayn Rand was a great novelist and a great libertarian. And there’s no doubt at all that her novels did more than anything else to revive libertarianism in America — and perhaps even in England. But what I’m talking about at the moment isn’t long didactic novels where characters speak for three pages about the evils of central banking. What I do believe we need is good, popular entertainment of our own creation that is based on our own assumptions.

I think the most significant objective propagandist of my lifetime for the libertarian and conservative cause in England was the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian. I’ve read all his historical novels, some more than once, and I don’t think he ever sets out an explicit case against the modern order of things. What he does instead is to create a world – that may once have existed largely as he describes I – that works on different assumptions from our own. If this world is often unattractive on account of its poverty and brutality, its settled emphasis on tradition and on personal freedom and responsibility has probably done more to spread the truth in England than the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Ideas combined.

Sean Gabb, quoted in “Wayne John Sturgeon talks to Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance”, Sean Gabb, 2013-08-26.

October 16, 2017

QotD: Our infantilized modern culture

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

1984‘s world was obsessively serious. Our 2015 social tyranny is absurdly trivial. It’s a world whose leaders is always looking for goofy photo ops while he violates the last remaining shreds of the law. Every crime is buried under a thousand shrieking viral headlines that alternate between fake empowerment and fake outrage.

We don’t have an adult totalitarian state, because we no longer have adults. Instead we have Lord of the Flies and Mean Girls. Overgrown children advance a totalitarian state out of spite and envy. Identity politics is everything because tribalism is more innate to children than it is to adults. Enemies have to be punished for emotional validation. Freedoms have to be eliminated out of insecurity.

The politicization of insecurity lets everyone be a victim. Anyone can turn their feelings of shame or ostracism into political awareness. Feelings not only displace reason, they warp ideology around themselves, so that ideology becomes a means of emotional venting. Activism becomes catharsis. Hating others becomes therapy. No one is cured, but making things better was never the point.

Our emotionally unstable activist elites veer from narcissism to insecurity. Their politics are manic-depressive efforts at managing their emotions by controlling others. They retreat to political safe spaces, gnaw at each other and then emerge forth to demand that the world be made safe for their feelings.

The left always gets what it wants and is never happy. The purpose of its idiot activism isn’t progress, but drama. Each achievement leaves behind a sense of emptiness. It isn’t about rights, it’s about conflict. It’s not about giving to someone. It’s about taking from someone else.

Without the conflict and its accompanying self-dramatization, there is only the emptiness.

Daniel Greenfield, “Our Insecure Culture Warriors”, Sultan Knish, 2015-11-02.

October 14, 2017

Boy Scouts to admit girls as members

Filed under: Humour, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

On Facebook, John Ringo explains why the Boy Scouts of America is opening its membership to girls:

The Boy Scouts will now admit girls.

https://www.history.com/news/boy-scouts-to-admit-girls-to-their-ranks

One of the main (mostly angry) responses (mostly by women) is ‘Why is this necessary?’

They apparently are either blind or haven’t kept up with changes in the Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts have eliminated almost all training and badges for ‘outdoorsy’ or essentially anything ‘unsafe’ (like, say, rafting.) No training in how to build a fire unless it’s already in a fire pit. (No training on how to build such a pit.) No training in, well, scouting, tracking, etc. They’ve basically cut everything ‘Scout’ about Girl Scouts and they’re now a full-on SJW front coupled with a fundraising group. God forbid you don’t make your cookie quota. ‘You want to hike? Hike your neighborhood and SELL MORE COOKIES!’

So the BSA basically felt so sorry for them they’re letting GRRRLS with COOTIES into the BSA! IKKY COOTIE GIRLS!

Both groups also have had a big fall-off in membership of late. So the Girl Scouts are flaming angry about it all. ‘How dare they steal our precious cookie tram… I mean precious girls?’

I’m guessing there’s going to be a big boost in Boy Scouts, though.

‘Fuck, yeah, dude! Woot! THERE’S GIRLS! Scouting just got AWESOME!’

‘Do they get to keep the skirts? Do they? Please tell me they’re keeping the skirts…’
🙂

(And, yes, I know they’re only in their own troops, work with me here…)

Boy and girl scouts saluting, American flag in background, circa 1960s. (Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images)

October 10, 2017

QotD: The base conditions for democratic society

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The absolutely vital elements of a successful democratic component of government (note – component of a system, not the entire system): is that there be a literate population; a free and enquiring press; a well developed and just rule of law; and a tradition of give and take being acceptable to the society.

Tribal societies have none of these things. That is why democracies have consistently failed in African countries where tribalism is still the most important element. (In fact politics in some of these places is still largely a competition between which tribal groups served in the imperial militaries, versus which served in the imperial civil services. With very bloody competition between the two.) The fact that illiteracy is rampant; free presses almost non-existent; and the rule of law where judges are not beholden to tribal interests, or simply threats, doesn’t exist: makes democracy impossible to sustain.

Muslim culture has none of these things. A system where a woman’s evidence in court is one third of a man’s – and dhimmitude is recognized even if slavery officially isn’t – is unlikely to have these things. And for literacy, free press, or rule of law, see Africa, but doubled.

It is also possible to suggest that without a clear understanding of the logic of natural laws, you can’t have a democracy. The fact that Muslim scholarship specifically rejects natural law on the basis that Allah can cause anything, so there are no ‘natural laws’, means you cannot have these things. The reason the Muslim world lost its scientific supremacy of the 11th and 12th centuries relates specifically to their decision to turn their back on empirical evidence. Without that basic understanding, I do not believe democracy is possible. (In fact that basic approach helps explain why democracy is actually anathema to good Muslims, and why Boko Haram literally means ‘Western education is evil’!)

So the concept that an ‘Arab Spring’ could work in the Middle East is a sad indictment on the Western media and ‘intelligentsia’s’ failed understanding about how democracy works.

In fact the entire deluded Western project of attempting to impose ‘republics’ on tribal societies as part of post-colonialism, is an indictment on the western fantasy that republics are workable, let alone good things.

Let’s face it, no western republic, even in the most educated, literate, and rule of law-abiding parts of the Anglosphere, has survived a first century without a collapse and or bloody civil war. The most ‘successful’ Western republics have included the American (see above), French (see above), Weimar (heard of the popularly elected Adolf Hitler?), Italian (50 governments in 50 years), Greek (how’s that brilliant financial planning going?) and Polish (are they on their 3rd, 4th, or 5th?). Those are the good ones. 90% of all republics ever founded in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, have collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, mass murder, or ethnic cleansing, within 20 years of being set up.

And that’s what we thought would work in the Middle East?

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s”, Rethinking History, 2015-09-19.

October 8, 2017

How to Care for Your Introvert

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

exurb1a
Published on 26 Sep 2017

Knock knock. Who’s there? Introvert. Introvert who? I’m so sorry to have bothered you, goodbye.

October 6, 2017

QotD: The likely transnational progressive endgame

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… if transnational progressivism actually succeeds in smothering liberal individualism, its reward will be to be put to the sword by some flavor of jihadi. Whether the eventual winners are Muslims or Mormons, the future is not going to look like the fuzzy multicultural ecotopia of modern left fantasy. The death of that dream is being written in European banlieus by angry Muslim youths under the light of burning cars.

In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin’s memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism — Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism. The self-panicking leftists who think they see that in today’s Republicans are comically wrong (as witnessed by the fact that they aren’t being systematically jailed and executed), but it is quite a plausible future for the demographically-collapsing nations of Europe.

The U.S., fortunately, is still on a demographic expansion wave and will be till at least 2050. But if the Islamists achieve their dream of nuking “crusader” cities, they’ll make crusaders out of the U.S., too. And this time, a West with a chauvinized America at its head would smite the Saracen with weapons that would destroy entire populations and fuse Mecca into glass. The horror of our victory would echo for a thousand years.

I remain more optimistic than this. I think there is still an excellent chance that the West can recover from suicidalism without going through a fevered fascist episode and waging a genocidal war. But to do so, we have to do more than recognize Stalin’s memes; we have to reject them. We have to eject postmodern leftism from our universities, transnational progressivism from our politics, and volk-Marxism from our media.

The process won’t be pretty. But I fear that if the rest of us don’t hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing. I don’t want to live in that future, and I don’t think any of my readers do, either. If we want to save a liberal, tolerant civilization for our children, we’d better get to work.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

October 4, 2017

Camille Paglia on the cultural influence of Hugh Hefner and Playboy

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Hollywood Reporter, Jeanie Pyun talks to Camille Paglia about the late Hugh Hefner and his once-mighty Playboy empire:

Have you ever been to a party at the Playboy Mansion?

No, I’m not a partygoer! (Laughs.)

So let me just ask: Was Hugh Hefner a misogynist?

Absolutely not! The central theme of my wing of pro-sex feminism is that all celebrations of the sexual human body are positive. Second-wave feminism went off the rails when it was totally unable to deal with erotic imagery, which has been a central feature of the entire history of Western art ever since Greek nudes.

So let’s dig in a little — what would you say was Playboy‘s cultural impact?

Hugh Hefner absolutely revolutionized the persona of the American male. In the post-World War II era, men’s magazines were about hunting and fishing or the military, or they were like Esquire, erotic magazines with a kind of European flair.

Hefner reimagined the American male as a connoisseur in the continental manner, a man who enjoyed all the fine pleasures of life, including sex. Hefner brilliantly put sex into a continuum of appreciative response to jazz, to art, to ideas, to fine food. This was something brand new. Enjoying fine cuisine had always been considered unmanly in America. Hefner updated and revitalized the image of the British gentleman, a man of leisure who is deft at conversation — in which American men have never distinguished themselves — and the art of seduction, which was a sport refined by the French.

Hefner’s new vision of American masculinity was part of his desperate revision of his own Puritan heritage. On his father’s side, he descended directly from William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower and was governor of Plymouth Colony, the major settlement of New England Puritans.

But Hefner’s worldview was already dated by the explosion of the psychedelic 1960s. The anything-goes, free-love atmosphere — illustrated by all that hedonistic rolling around in the mud at Woodstock in 1969 — made the suave Hefner style seem old-fashioned and buttoned up. Nevertheless, I have always taken the position that the men’s magazines — from the glossiest and most sophisticated to the rawest and raunchiest — represent the brute reality of sexuality. Pornography is not a distortion. It is not a sexist twisting of the facts of life but a kind of peephole into the roiling, primitive animal energies that are at the heart of sexual attraction and desire.

What could today’s media learn from what Hef did at Playboy?

It must be remembered that Hefner was a gifted editor who knew how to produce a magazine that had great visual style and that was a riveting combination of pictorial with print design. Everything about Playboy as a visual object, whether you liked the magazine or not, was lively and often ravishing.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

October 3, 2017

QotD: Generation selfie

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There was a whole section of the catalog I picked up in which the models obscured their faces with their phones by taking selfies. Unlike most models these days, who affect a look of unutterable misery (perhaps it is not an affectation, given that they are not allowed to eat and are treated like slaves), the models taking selfies looked very happy, at least in those pictures in which it was possible to discern their facial expression. Perhaps, then, it is in looking at oneself that true happiness lies, at least for some people.

Certainly, at every famous tourist site these days one sees whole troops of people taking pictures of themselves: me and the Mona Lisa, me and the Eiffel Tower, me and Big Ben, me and the Empire State Building, me and Mount Everest. It is the me that counts in these photos, of course; no one’s friends really care about Mount Everest, and even concern for the me is relative. A selfie with Mount Everest is like an alibi when one has been accused of claiming to have been there without having been there; the proof is in one’s phone, although it must be admitted that these days, with an ability to alter photos at will that would have brought joy to Stalin’s heart, anything can be arranged. I read in the memoir of a French model that, having starved mannequins to the size of minus 6, they are fattened up a little afterwards by computer at the printing stage: a remarkable testimony to mankind’s capacity to combine wickedness with stupidity.

The selfie is an example of the new social contract brought about by the social media: You pretend to be interested in me if I pretend to be interested in you. Thus, I agree to look at your selfie at Machu Picchu if you agree to look at mine at Angkor Wat. And this, after all, is as it should be, because it is a long way to go to either of those if no one believes you have been. A classic book is a book that everyone wishes he had read; a wonder of the world is a place at which everyone wishes he had been photographed.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Suit Yourselfie”, Taki’s Magazine, 2017-09-16.

September 22, 2017

QotD: Microaggressions and the out-groups

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The debate over microaggressions often seems to focus on whether they are real. This is silly. Of course they’ve always been real; only the label is new. Microaggressions from the majority to the minority are as real as Sunday, and the effect of their accumulated weight is to make you feel always slightly a stranger in a strange land. The phenomenon is dispiriting, even more so because the offenders frequently don’t realize that their words were somewhere between awkward and offensive (once again).

On the other hand, in a diverse group, the other thing you have to say about microaggressions is that they are unavoidable. And that a culture that tries to avoid them is setting up to tear itself apart.

I’m using microaggressions broadly here: to define the small slights by which any majority group subtly establishes its difference from its minority members. That means that I am including groups that may not come to mind for victim status, like conservatives in very liberal institutions. And no doubt many of my readers are preparing to deliver a note or a comment saying I shouldn’t dare to compare historically marginalized groups with politically powerful ones.

I dare because it highlights the basic problem with extensively litigating microaggressions, which is that it is a highly unstable way of mediating social disputes. Deciding who is eligible to complain about microaggressions is itself an act by which the majority imposes its will, and it is felt as alienating by the minorities who are effectively told that they don’t have the same right to ask for decent treatment as other groups. As a conservative social scientist once told me, “When I think of my own laments about being an ideological minority, most of it is basically microaggression.”

Megan McArdle, “How Grown-Ups Deal With ‘Microaggressions'”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-11.

September 19, 2017

In praise of ancient Greece

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, Sean Gabb explains why we owe so much today to ancient and classical Greek culture:

The Greeks gave us virtually all our philosophy, and the foundation of all our sciences. Their historians were the finest. Their poetry was second only to that of Homer – and it was they who put together all that we have of Homer, and Homer was himself an early Greek. They gave us ideals of beauty, the fading of which has always been a warning sign of decadence; and they gave us the technical means of recording that beauty. They had no examples to imitate. They did everything entirely by themselves. In a world that had always been at the midnight point of barbarism and superstition, they went off like a flashbulb; and everything good in our own world is part of their afterglow. Every renaissance and enlightenment we have had since then has begun with a rediscovery of the Ancient Greeks.

For the avoidance of doubt, I will not say that the Greeks were perfect. Though remarkable human beings – though the most remarkable human beings – they were still human beings, with all the vices and other failings that come with this. But, if you commit your life to staring into that flood of intense light that was Greece, you will not have lived in vain. And, though I do not despise translations, and would never discourage someone from approaching the Greeks only through translation, I will add that the light is most intense when seen directly, through the medium in which the Greeks themselves thought and spoke and wrote.

There are many reasons for learning Greek. A full discussion of them would amount to an advertisement for my services, and would take longer than I have available for this speech. But I will mention three.

The first is that Greek is inherently a beautiful language, and worth studying for itself alone. There is certainly a thrill to speaking it. Take this line from Homer:

    τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς
    To him in answer spake the ever-resourceful Odysseus

For any number of reasons, my pronunciation is corrupt, and no Greek, ancient or modern, would think me other than a barbarian. But say these words, and you are making sounds that were first made when our own ancestors were tattooing their faces and smearing butter into their hair, before perhaps the building of Stonehenge, and when even Rome was no more than a collection of huts not far removed from the stone age.

The second main reason for learning Greek is that we know far less about the Greeks than we would like. So much has been carried away by the ravages of time. For the past six hundred years, a continuous line of scholars in Western Europe, and more recently in America, has laboured to gather and understand all that can be found about the Greeks. Every surviving Greek text has been pressed harder than olives for one of the supermarket chains to give up every possible meaning. Archaeology and all the natural sciences have been put to similar uses. In every century since the fourteenth, we have been able to say at its end that we knew more than at the beginning. But our knowledge remains imperfect. We look on the Greeks as we might on a landscape covered in mist. Here and there, the mist is absent or thinner, and we can be astonished by what we see; and we can hope to extrapolate from what we see to what remains covered.

If you come to the Greeks through translations, it is as if you are looking at that misty landscape though a sheet of coloured glass. Our word translate in Latin, and by extension in French, is traduco. This can mean translate. It can also mean dishonour, degrade or betray. Most translations, whether deliberately or by accident, do all these things to their original. Until very recently, English translators of the classics would labour to conceal the sexual tastes of the Ancients. Many translators labour still, though now to conceal the ancient taste for mood-altering substances. Even otherwise, a translation will not carry over the whole of the original meaning, but will impose on a reader the translator’s view of its meaning. Compare, if you like, my translation of Thucydides with other translations. The basic idea is the same: the choice of words and the balance and even the structure of the statement are different.

This brings me to my third main reason – and here I turn to Latin. If you take individual stories from Homer and put them into translation, they can sometimes work almost as well as they do in Greek. The story of Odysseus in the Cave of Polyphemus is wonderful in itself. So too the story of how Achilles tied the dead body of Hector to his chariot and dragged it about the walls of Troy, and how Priam came out to buy back the body. These stories thrilled me as a child, or moved me to tears. So they can in in any good retelling.

If we turn, however, to Vergil, any translation seems to involve a perceptible loss of impact. Last Easter, I taught some revision courses for A Level Classical Civilisation. One of the modules I covered was Vergil’s The Aeneid in several good English translations. Except for John Dryden’s version, this was my first experience of Vergil in translation. I have said that the translations used were good. They were made by men whose Latin was far better than mine. Compared with the original, however, they were disappointingly flat. Again and again, I would skim the text, looking for the equivalent of some line or phrase that had stamped itself into my memory. Again and again, I was disappointed by the mediocrity of what I made the students read aloud to me.

September 5, 2017

QotD: Microaggressions

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Whenever I first heard the word “microaggression,” sometime in the last five years, I’m sure I was unaware how big “micro” could get. The accusation of a microaggression was about to become a pervasive feature of the Internet, and particularly social media. An offense most of us didn’t even know existed, suddenly we were all afraid of being accused of.

We used to call this “rudeness,” “slights” or “ignorant remarks.” Mostly, people ignored them. The elevation of microaggressions into a social phenomenon with a specific name and increasingly public redress marks a dramatic social change, and two sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, have a fascinating paper exploring what this shift looks like, and what it means. (Jonathan Haidt has provided a very useful CliffsNotes version.)

Western society, they argue, has shifted from an honor culture — in which slights are taken very seriously, and avenged by the one slighted — to a dignity culture, in which personal revenge is discouraged, and justice is outsourced to third parties, primarily the law. The law being a cumbersome beast, people in dignity cultures are encouraged to ignore slights, or negotiate them privately by talking with the offender, rather than seeking some more punitive sanction.

Microagressions mark a transition to a third sort of culture: a victim culture, in which people are once again encouraged to take notice of slights. This sounds a lot like honor culture, doesn’t it? Yes, with two important differences. The first is that while victimhood is shameful in an honor culture — and indeed, the purpose of taking vengeance is frequently to avoid this shame — victim status is actively sought in the new culture, because victimhood is a prerequisite for getting redress. The second is that victim culture encourages people to seek help from third parties, either authorities or the public, rather than seeking satisfaction themselves.

Megan McArdle, “How Grown-Ups Deal With ‘Microaggressions'”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-11.

August 31, 2017

Words and Numbers: Do Americans still have freedom of speech?

Filed under: Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Apparently, James and Antony have given up the YouTube version of Words and Numbers and reverted to an audio-only version (at least I can still embed the player version):

These days, everybody is nervous about what you can say in public without getting slammed by retribution. But is that a free-speech problem, or does it only become one when the police start showing up? Do we live in a truly tolerant society if voicing an opinion, even if it doesn’t land you in jail, ends up ending your career? Antony and James explore these intricate issues.

August 30, 2017

QotD: Democratic education

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… a passage transcribed from one of Étienne Gilson’s public lectures in the early 1950s, and let it be said that a man in the Deep South who signs himself N.W. Flitcraft, found it first. (He is here.) Gilson has been one of my own “heroes,” or guiding lights, these last few decades:

    “If our school system exists, not in view of a chosen minority, but in view of all, its average level should answer the average level of the population as a whole. Hence the unavoidable consequence that the best gifted among the pupils will be discriminated against. Nor should we imagine that creative minds will multiply in direct proportion to the growth of the school population. The reverse is much more likely to happen. In aristocratic societies, genius has often found access to higher culture, even under adverse circumstances; in democratic societies, it will have no higher culture to which to gain access. Since equality in ignorance is easier to achieve than equality in learning, each and every teacher will have to equalize his class at the bottom level rather than at the top one, and the whole school system will spontaneously obey the same law. It is anti-democratic to teach all children what only some of them are able to learn. Nay, it is anti-democratic to teach what all children can learn by means of methods which only a minority of pupils are able to follow. Since, as has been said, democracy stands for equality, democratic societies have a duty to teach only what is accessible to all and to see to it that it be made accessible to all. The overwhelming weight of their school population is therefore bound to lower the centre of gravity in their school systems. The first peril for democracies, therefore, is to consider it their duty, in order to educate all citizens, to teach each of them less and less and in a less and less intelligent way.”

Pause, gentle, then read that through again, until committed to memory. I cannot think of a better single-paragraph explanation of how John Dewey’s “democratic vistas” sent us all to hell. Verily, I wish I’d been armed with that when asked, some forty-six years ago, why I was leaving school with only a Grade X education (plus, to be fair to me, nearly one full term of Grade XI). It explains everything, in less than three hundred words.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

August 25, 2017

QotD: The “job” of literature between the wars

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Until round about WWI when the wheels came off European culture (and in that strata, American taste always molded itself on European taste, starting before the revolution) “high culture” and “proper taste” which defined “quality literature” involved the author making sure the upper classes knew he was one of them. That is, the story would be full of literary references, to either classical literature (a lot) or to various artists and writers which had become hallmarks of high culture. (Shakespeare or Chaucer, not “quality” or high class in their own times, but rendered more difficult and therefore more rarefied a taste by the change in language.)

Then the wheels came off. There was some insurgence and some of this type of thing before then, mind, but it was after WWI that self-loathing became the hallmark of the upper classes in Europe. Then, because they were still the elite and (in their own eyes) the taste makers, the mark of rarefied good taste became the nostalgie de la boue. Where Shakespeare and his like had written about kings and queens or at least Lords and Ladies, increasingly the “modern” and cutting edge literature bypassed even decent middle class who were despised as bourgeois and concentrated on ne’er do wells, the criminal element, the lowest of the low in morals more than in money. Alternately it concentrated on the corruption and bankrupt morals of the [nouveau riche], the noblemen, those that could be seen as winners in life.

This is what Agatha Christie in her Miss Marple books more than once characterizes as “Unpleasant people in unpleasant circumstances, doing unpleasant things.”

This trend, roughly akin to an adolescent reveling in writing things that upset his parents, as communism became an established thing and the USSR reached out tendrils of propaganda to the west, turned into a mess of set-pieces, the “international realism” of socialists, about as artistically relevant as the national realism of the fascists. It became set pieces to the point that you REALLY need to question your cultural assumptions to get at the truth.

The “literature” of this type has given us the exploited mill workers, for instance, living in horror and squalor. While this is absolutely true when compared to the conditions of our time, those mill workers didn’t get the chance to live in our time, in the conditions of our time. They had the choice of living off the land or going to the city and living in factories. Life on the land has been painted with the soft tints of the romantics and the glorious tints of the early Marxists, but if you actually LOOK at the industrial revolution going on before our eyes in China or India, you realize people are coming to the cities and getting factory jobs because life is BETTER there than in the rural fastnesses they come from. Sure, their lives as industrial workers would horrify American workers, but they’re relatively good for what they have available.

In this sense, the literature of that time did its job which was to sell a socialist future (though most of the authors who were trying to write quality were probably unaware of what they were doing or how the dictates of “quality” came from a self-hating and often outright traitorous elite.) It shaped even the minds of those who are naturally suspicious of socialist tripe.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “The Quality of Writing”, According to Hoyt, 2015-10-11.

August 22, 2017

QotD: Writing about the past

Filed under: Books, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If you’re writing in the past — or even if you are just living in the present — you should have an idea of how the past was different, and the factors that shaped that.

If you assume the past was just like the present only less “enlightened” you’re presupposing history comes with an arrow, and that today is of course more “advanced” than the past. While this is true of science — of course — it’s not always true of what was inside people’s heads. In many ways because even the poorest of us struggle less than in the Middle Ages, it’s become easier to develop mental habits of laziness and other “rich person” vices. What you think is enlightenment might be considered sheer nonsense by your descendants. For instance the enlightened thing at one time (even Heinlein has a whiff of it) was genetic culling. Now we’re finding that what we know about genes isn’t that straightforward. Throw in epigenetics and someone with a gene to be a “moron” can turn out to be a genius. More, even overtly bad disease genes are linked to genes we need and can’t survive without. BUT the enlightened opinion in the early twentieth century was to improve humanity and save human suffering by culling out the sick and the lame and the “inferior races.” (No, Hitler didn’t invent that.)

Some of our concepts (and I’m not going to name any because it’s a fight I don’t need, but I’m sure you can think of some) will prove just as monstrous to our descendants.

If you don’t have a sense of that, you don’t have a sense of the past, which unfortunately means you don’t have a sense of the present.

If you think that there is an objective way to end poverty or stop drug use, or whatever, and it’s ONLY your way, and even your opponents think your way is right and are being villainous and “evil” by opposing it you not only shouldn’t be writing historical fiction, you definitely shouldn’t be voting. You should find the nearest kindergarten and use it as a safe space.

Because out here in the real adult world, the past and the present and complicated places, with different modes of arranging life that worked with the circumstances at that time, even if they now set our teeth (or our hair) on edge.

If you can’t accept your ancestors were different from you, thought differently and responded to different necessities, you have no business preaching multiculturalism.

Because what makes a culture different is not the hairstyles, the dresses or what they ate, but how one must live to survive. And yes, some cultures are factually worse than others at providing their people with the necessities (or the luxuries) of life. Arguably most past cultures were (barring our finding some atlantian high-developed scientific culture we’ve heard nothing about.)

That doesn’t give you the right to to stomp your feet and rewrite the past to justify your boorish self-regard in the present.

Your ancestors were both more and less enlightened than you in ways you can’t even understand, and your superimposing your beliefs on them is the act of a mental midget standing on the shoulders of giants and peeing down.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “What Has Gone Before Us”, According to Hoyt, 2015-08-03.

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