"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is by no means rare among Democrats and “progressives.” For example, this story is about threats of legal action and potential loss of license against a TV station that dared to broadcast ads critical of Democratic candidate Gary Peters. (The lawyers who sent the letter work for the law firm of Bob Bauer, who was general counsel of the Obama campaign.)
The hostility to free expression and discussion of ideas is especially strong in many universities. For example, here’s a Swarthmore student who was appalled that conservative Princeton professor Robert George was allowed to debate against leftist Princeton prof Cornell West: ”“What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion,” Ching told the Daily Gazette, the school’s newspaper. “I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.” The same link mentions an article by a Harvard student, who calls for replacing academic freedom with something she calls “academic justice.”
Gleichschaltung is a German word which means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line.” It was a term much favored by the Nazis, who used it in the sense of “forcible coordination.” Under the Nazi regime, all aspects of society–all organizations ranging from major professional associations such as those representing the country’s legal profession, down to to folk-singing groups and small local hiking clubs–were subjected to Gleichschaltung. Not only was there to be no criticism of National Socialism in the explicitly political sphere, there was to be no truly non-political sphere at all. Everything had to be about the propagation and strengthening of the ideology of National Socialism.
The Democratic Party, the “progressive” Left, and the Obama administration are clearly attempting to establish more and more control over public discourse about political and social matters, and also about anything that could relate to these matters.
And what is “political correctness,” after all, other than a contemporary American form of Gleichschaltung?
Kevin Williamson takes on some accusations by a Harvard professor…and, at a more general level, attacks the endless, hysterical, and irresponsible cries of “racism” and “sexism” by the Left and its media and academic minions. A fine piece of writing.
Two of those are taken up by modern author Elizabeth McCracken telling students about the scary movies she watched as a child, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as well as dreams she had. Under the heading “Critical Reading,” students are asked what movies McCracken watched as a child. Another page features a hokey picture of a Frankenstein monster circa 1955.
In the margins of the Teacher’s Edition to the textbook, teachers are encouraged to ask their students what “classic” stories of urban myths, tales of alien abductions, or ghost stories they have heard. Examples include stories of alligators in sewers, a man abducted for his kidneys, and aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico. Students are asked to write a paragraph on “one of these modern urban myths.” The learning continues when students are challenged to write “a brief autobiography of a monster.” The editors lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of “the humans confronting the monster.” They want to turn the tables by having students consider “what monsters think about their treatment.” Those poor, misunderstood monsters!
(As Joanne Jacobs notes, the lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of the humans rather than the monster completely ignores the fact that much of Frankenstein is told from the monster’s perspective, albeit as quoted by Victor Frankenstein, the first-person narrator.)
Three pages out of the seventeen feature Mary Shelley’s actual words on them. But they are not selections from the novel or any kind of preparation for reading the novel. Rather, they are taken from an introduction Shelley wrote about writing the novel. The only indication that students are encouraged to read Frankenstein is a box in the margin of the Teacher’s Edition indicating that the “advanced readers” who are “interested” might read a “segment” of the novel in order to compare the monster to Shelley’s description in her introduction.
The book allocates five pages (two more than are given to Mary Shelley) to a script of a Saturday Night Live parody of Frankenstein. First, students are invited “to share their impressions of the long-running comedy show.” Again the talented-and-gifted students are called to the fore, as they are supposed to obtain props, costumes, and make-up that will enable them to “take roles and do a dramatic reading” of the script.
The author notes that the post-literate individual resembles the person from a pre-literate oral culture in many ways, BUT:
On the other hand, post-literacy is not a relapse into orality, which, in its intact form, has institutions of its own such as folklore and social custom that codify the knowledge essential to living. Post-literacy can draw on no such resources, for these have only been preserved in modern society in literature, and post-literacy has not only lost contact with literature, but also it simply no longer knows how to read in any meaningful sense. It cannot refer to the archive to replenish itself by a study of its own past.
…which implies, of course, that people in post-literate societies are more susceptible to manipulation than are those in either oral or literate cultures.
Note also the description of the private college which is so desperate for tuition revenue that it forces its professors to tolerate almost any level of bad performance and outright laziness from its students. As I’ve observed before, the idea that “non-profit” institutions are inherently morally superior to for-profit entities is ludicrous, and increasingly obviously so.
For income growth to occur in a society, a large fraction of people must experience changes in the possible lives they imagine for themselves and their children, and these new visions of possible futures must have enough force to lead them to change the way they behave … and the hopes they invest in these children: the way they allocate their time. In the words of [V.S. Naipaul] economic development requires “a million mutinies.”
….One expert who does acknowledge a paradigmatic shift and posits a powerful explanatory model for the behavior of what he terms “the new revolutionaries” is Dr Neville Bolt of the War Studies Department of King’s College, London and author of The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the New Revolutionaries. Taking a constructivist view of irregular military conflict as the means by which insurgents weave an enduring political narrative of mythic power and shape historical memory, Bolt eschews some cherished strategic tenets of realists and Clausewitzians. The ecology of social media, powered by decentralised, instant communication platforms and the breakdown of formerly autarkic or regulated polities under the corrosive effects of capitalist market expansion, have been, in Bolt’s view, strategic game changers “creating room to maneuver” in a new “cognitive battlespace” for “complex insurgencies”. Violent “Propaganda of the Deed”, once the nihilistic signature of 19th century Anarchist-terrorist groups like the People’s Will, has reemerged in the 21stcentury’s continuous media attention environment as a critical tool for insurgents to compress time and space through “…a dramatic crisis that must be provoked”.
As a book The Violent Image sits at the very verge of war and politics where ideas become weapons and serve as a catalyst for turning grievance into physical aggression and violence. Running two hundred and sixty-nine heavily footnoted pages and an extensive bibliography that demonstrates Bolt’s impressive depth of research. While Bolt at times slips into academic style, for the most part his prose is clear, forceful and therefore useful and accessible to the practitioner or policy maker. Particularly for the latter, are Bolt’s investigations into violent action by modern terrorists as a metaphor impacting time (thus, decision cycles) across a multiplicity of audiences. This capacity for harvesting strategic effect from terrorist events was something lacking in the 19th and early 20thcentury followers of Bakunin and Lenin (in his dalliances with terrorism); or in Bolt’s view, the anarchists “failed to evoke a coherent understanding in the population” or a “sustained message”.
An Israeli soldier reports on what he has learned while speaking about Israel at universities in the Pacific Northwest:
When I served as a soldier in the West Bank, I got used to having ugly things said to me, but nothing prepared me for the misinformation, demonization of Israel, and the gut-wrenching, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic hostility expressed by many students, professors, church members, and even some high school students right here in the Pacific Northwest.
To give you a taste of the viciousness of the BDS attacks, let me cite just a few of the many shocking experiences I have had. At a BDS event in Portland, a professor from a Seattle university told the assembled crowd that the Jews of Israel have no national rights and should be forced out of the country. When I asked, “Where do you want them to go?” she calmly answered, “I don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t have any place else to go. They should not be there.” When I responded that she was calling for ethnic cleansing, both she and her supporters denied it. And during a presentation in Seattle, I spoke about my longing for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. When I was done, a woman in her 60’s stood up and yelled at me, “You are worse than the Nazis. You are just like the Nazi youth!” A number of times I was repeatedly accused of being a killer, though I have never hurt anyone in my life. On other occasions, anti-Israel activists called me a rapist. The claims go beyond being absurd – in one case, a professor asked me if I knew how many Palestinians have been raped by IDF forces. I answered that as far as I knew, none. She triumphantly responded that I was right, because, she said, “You IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinians because Israelis are so racist and disgusted by them that you won’t touch them.”
I saw the movie “Inequality for All” starring Robert Reich, the former labor secretary for Bill Clinton and a very short guy (he’s 4′ 11″) who is pretty personable and funny. Reich uses his day job as a university professor while teaching a class to illustrate his thoughts on inequality from the movie.
In the movie he attempts to link:
- decline in average wages, in “real” terms (adjusted for inflation)
- growth in the highest wages (the top 1%)
- with various factors, including globalization, automation, declines in unions, and the financial bubble
- income inequality with lower marginal tax rates on the rich
There are certainly some concepts in here than anyone can agree with. It would be good if more people in the USA earned a higher salary, had better educations, and were more productive.
In the movie he mentions Warren Buffett, who famously pays a lower marginal tax rate than everyone else in his office, which is due to the fact that he receives long term capital gains and dividend income which are taxed at a lower rate. This is grist for the “raise taxes on the wealthy” discussion, as Buffett plays the likable old man. However, what he fails to mention is that Warren Buffett is the very candidate that the ESTATE TAX is designed to catch… rather than nickel and dime him every year on his assets as they rise in value (and cause friction and force him to sell them off to meet the tax bill), the estate tax would be levied on the super rich and it would effectively make up for the lower marginal rate during his lifetime by taxing increases on his wealth at a rate of 40%, for all amounts greater than about $5M. However, Warren Buffett is choosing to “evade” these taxes by setting up trusts and / or giving it away to his favorite causes; if Warren couldn’t avoid his estate tax through these loopholes (the same way you or I can’t avoid the payroll or sales taxes) then 40% of his $60B estate ($24B) would go to the Federal government, to fund the “investments in people” that Robert Reich is so passionate about. Funny that Reich didn’t call that out (didn’t follow his narrative, apparently).
Another element he fails to mention is the growth in illegal immigration in the USA, and the havoc that this causes with unskilled labor (as they are willing to work for far less). It is funny because two professions he specifically mentions, meat packing and short order cooks, are magnets for immigrants and their arrival is a direct cause for falling wages in these fields. Not surprisingly, Reich didn’t want to alienate a core Democratic group.
There is a rich “pillow manufacturer” who makes $10M+ / year who also describes how ridiculous it is in his opinion that his marginal rate isn’t higher. That same entrepreneur says that he invests in “funds of funds” and due to this he makes money without creating any jobs. That is quite a statement – what do you think those hedge funds invest in? They invest in commodities, stocks, real estate and debt (I’m assuming). When you are an investor and you provide money for stock and debt you are supporting companies that, in turn, hire staff. I can’t believe that Reich let this comment slide, but since it was what Reich wanted to hear, why interject?
David Ronfeldt, RAND strategist and theorist has done a deep two-part review of America 3.0 over at his Visions from Two Theories blog. Ronfeldt has been spending the last few years developing his TIMN analytic framework (Tribes, Institutions [hierarchical], Markets and Networks) which you can get a taste from here and here or a full reading with this RAND paper.
David regards the familial structure thesis put forward by James Bennett and Michael Lotus in America 3.0 as “captivating” and “compelling” for ”illuminating the importance of the nuclear family for America’s evolution in ways that, in my view, help validate and reinforce TIMN”. Both reviews are detailed and should be read in their entirety, but I will have some excerpts below:
….Bennett and Lotus show at length (Chapter 2, pp. 29-45) that the nuclear family explains a lot about our distinctive culture and society:
“It has caused Americans to have a uniquely strong concept of each person as an individual self, with an identity that is not bound by family or tribal or social ties. … Our distinctive type [of] American nuclear family has made us what we are.” (p. 29)And “what we are” as a result is individualistic, liberty-loving, nonegalitarian (without being inegalitarian), competitive, enterprising, mobile, and voluntaristic. In addition, Americans tend to have middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and a preference for suburban lifestyles.
As the authors carefully note, these are generally positive traits, but they have both bright and dark sides, noticeable for example in the ways they make America a “high-risk, high-return culture” (p. 38) — much to the bane of some individuals. The traits also interact in interesting ways, such that Americans tend to be loners as individuals and families, but also joiners “who form an incomprehensibly dense network of voluntary associations” — much to the benefit of civil society (p. 39).
In sum, the American-style nuclear family is the major cause of “American exceptionalism” — the basis of our freedom and prosperity, our “amazing powers of assimilation” (p. 53), and our unique institutions: Read the rest of this entry »
Most histories of the American World War 2 (WW2) military mobilization are firmly based in Keynesian economics. There is now a new emerging counterpoint evaluation of that era, using the “Regime Uncertainty” school of political economy. The following is a review of three works in that school that provide both a cultural/political context and a nuts and bolts view of how the American military mobilization of 1940-43 was paid for.
All three books subscribe to the “Regime Uncertainty” school of political economy in evaluating the Great Depression and the World War Two economic rebound. This school challenges the gross domestic product (GDP) measurements of World War Two as highly flawed and contends that while actual consumer GDP increased through out the war, much is what the Federal government counts as GDP — ammunition for instance — was a flat economic loss.
This school of thought also contends the late 1940s post-war economic recovery in America was very much a matter of the dismantlement of FDR New Deal regulatory structure — and removing “Regime Uncertainty” from “Rule of Men” regulatory fiat — as the major factor in the post World War Two private sector economic boom.
Apropos of nothing – although since the Zimmerman jury has begun deliberations, this selection might be seen as a comment – today I am thinking on a certain 19th century hymn. Which my mother always disliked since a certain pastor liked to bring it out, incessantly with regard to particularly mid-20th century political concerns. Yes, I was raised religious, in one of the more flintily intellectual Protestant religious traditions, and today I believe this particular hymn to be especially relevant, in light of David’s post about Saint Alexander of Munich. There are choices one makes – sometimes momentous ones, on the spur of an instant, which turn out to be the choices which define your life … and now and again, your death.
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by for ever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light. Read the rest of this entry »
This essay has been around for a while but I saw it for the first time today. It is powerful but depressing. I wonder how applicable it is to the Chicago school system? I have a nephew who has a step daughter in a public school that is about half black. Her mother has to go to the school about once a week to complain about bullying. Catholic schools’ tuition is far higher than it was when I lived there.
A few excerpts: Until recently I taught at a predominantly black high school in a southeastern state.
The mainstream press gives a hint of what conditions are like in black schools, but only a hint. Expressions journalists use like “chaotic” or “poor learning environment” or “lack of discipline” do not capture what really happens. There is nothing like the day-to-day experience of teaching black children and that is what I will try to convey.
Most whites simply do not know what black people are like in large numbers, and the first encounter can be a shock.
One of the most immediately striking things about my students was that they were loud. They had little conception of ordinary decorum. It was not unusual for five blacks to be screaming at me at once. Instead of calming down and waiting for a lull in the din to make their point — something that occurs to even the dimmest white students — blacks just tried to yell over each other.
This must be an impossible place to try to teach. Are there any kids who want to learn?
A few weeks ago I received an email from a US professor whose dean had reprimanded him for trying to teach his students how to write. The professor, who has been teaching business and law students at some of America’s top universities for 50 years, told an MBA class that clear writing would be essential in their careers.
Each week, the professor assigned the students to compose a one-page memo, which he would read and mark. The objective was to improve their skills at conveying information clearly and concisely.
The students complained vigorously to the dean, and the dean urged the professor to discontinue the memo-writing exercise. He (the dean) supported the view of the students that in business today, they did not need to know how to write…that with emails and tweets as the medium of exchange, the constant back-and-forth would provide an opportunity to correct misunderstandings caused by unclear writing. Ultimately, the dean insisted that the writing exercise be made voluntary, with the result that by the end of the term only one student (a non-native English speaker) was submitting the assignments.
For those who think bad writing is okay because it can be clarified and corrected by emails and tweets, try sending a really badly-written sales proposal to a potential customer. You are likely to find that the sales opportunity has been blown in a way that will not allow for all those endless back-and-forth emails and tweets. Or, if your actual and apparent authority within the corporation are sufficiently high, you may find that you have unintentionally made a legally binding and potentially very expensive offer on behalf of your company.
The consequences of bad writing within a company can also be quite malign. If your proposal for an improvement to the Gerbilator product line is sufficiently confusing, it’s likely nobody is going to bother investing the time needed for all that back-and-forth to understand what you are actually trying to say. More likely, they will choose to devote their attention to someone else’s crystal-clear and well-reasoned proposal to spend the engineering and marketing efforts on something else entirely.
Skapinker notes that it is very odd that in an era when parents are seeking all possible advantages for their children (“exposing them to Paul Klee at the age of four…and teaching them to sing ‘Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes’ in Mandarin”) these parents do not pay serious attention to developing and improving the writing skills of the kids.
Both clear writing and effective speaking (with or without PowerPoint) are tremendous advantages in business, and surely in other types of organizations as well. Anyone who graduates from a university without developing these skills has been cheated…or (more accurately in most cases) has cheated himself with the university’s collusion.
Diana Senechal, guest-blogging at Joanne Jacobs, tells the following story:
I run two lunchtime literature clubs at my school. The fourth graders just finished reading A Little Princess. During our discussions, I encourage delving into the text and discussing it on its own terms. I am not a big fan of “accountable talk,” “making predictions,” “making connections,” and so forth when they assume precedence over the subject matter itself.
One student brought up the part where Sara spends her money on hot buns for a beggar girl. “She made a self-to-self connection,” the student said. I felt sorry that students are learning such ghastly terminology, however well meant. Why are students not encouraged to say, “She understood how the girl felt” or “She felt compassion for the girl”?
Why, indeed? It’s bad enough to impose verbiage like “self-to-self connection” on college students: to do it to a 4th grader is really unforgiveable. It adds nothing to understanding–indeed, it very likely interferes with the true understanding and appreciation of the story by creating an emotional distance.
Strange, awkward, and unnatural verbal formulations, used ritualistically and without contributing to understanding, are becoming increasingly common in our society: although this phenomenon is arguably at its worst in education, it is by no means limited to that field. These word and phrases are not similar to the traditional jargon of a profession or trade. “Self-to-self connections” is not the same kind of thing as “amp” or even “kanban.”
Mark Helprin, in an essay about art, writes about people who are so obsessed with their tools and techniques that they lose sight of the substance of the work:
Modernism is by necessity obsessed with form, much like a craftsman obsessed with his tools and materials. In my climbing days we used to call people like that “equipment weenies.” These days you can see it in fly-fishing, where not a few people go out once a year with $5,000-worth of equipment to catch (maybe) $5-worth of fish. What should have been the story of the man, the stream, and the fish becomes instead a romance between the man and his tools. In this century the same thing happened in art.
Athough Helprin is talking here about art, the same excessive focus on methodology is visible in other areas as well.
Who are the people who perpetrate and cling to these fake-erudite verbal formulations? I suspect that they are generally those who have an education which is extensive–in terms of total years spent in the classroom–but not deep.
Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the U.S. Naval Academy, has some interesting thoughts on the teaching/misteaching of literature, which are highly relevant to this topic. Excerpt:
Literary study in the classroom nowadays offers views of the work of literature rather like the views of Mt. Fuji in Hokusai’s celebrated spring series on “100 Views of Mt. Fuji.” In each view, the mountain, while present, is frequently tiny and in a corner, viewed (in the most famous print) beyond the crest of a wave whose foam seems to make fingers at the edges, or (in another) through a hoop that a barrel-maker is shaping.
Those are not the front-and-center shots on a postcard. They foreground the angle of the mountain, its treatment, much the way a literature professor does with a funky viewpoint that got him or her tenure. Of course the postcard shot has its own point, but in a real sense it’s more neutral than the angled treatment. It doesn’t push our noses in its approach: It defers to the object it is depicting. We’re far more conscious of the treatment of Mt. Fuji in an artsy Hokusai print than we are in a postcard shot. And that means, we’re all but compelled to see the mountain the way it’s presented, rather than being able to work on our own presentation. That’s why literary studies is intrinsically coercive.
I think the blatherification of America is an important issue. It inhibits clear thought. It is harmful to the enjoyment of art and of literature. It is destructive of intelligent policy-making in both business and government.
What say you? Do you agree that blatherification is happening and that it matters? Thoughts on causes and possible countermeasures?
Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice?
The arguments presented in this article seem like a good if somewhat long presentation of the general problem, and could be applied in many fields besides medicine. (Note that the comments on the article rapidly become an argument about global warming.) The same problems are also seen in the work of bloggers, journalists and “experts” who specialize in popular health, finance, relationship and other topics and have created entire advice industries out of appeals to the authority of often poorly designed studies. The world would be a better place if students of medicine, law and journalism were forced to study basic statistics and experimental design. Anecdote is not necessarily invalid; study results are not necessarily correct and are often wrong or misleading.
None of this is news, and good researchers understand the problems. However, not all researchers are competent, a few are dishonest and the research funding system and academic careerism unintentionally create incentives that make the problem worse.
(Thanks to Madhu Dahiya for her thoughtful comments.)
An interesting case. Bellesiles? East Anglia? Don’t be silly — this is the Times, after all. But interesting nonetheless.
Science may be a noble endeavor. However, as with professional sports, if there’s enough money or opportunity for self-aggrandizement in it some people will cheat, and some people will be attracted to the enterprise precisely because of the opportunity to cheat. Stapels, the subject of the Times profile, looks like a real piece of work. It will be interesting to see if he succeeds in rehabilitating himself, even if non-academically, as he seems to be trying to do. Perhaps his post-academic career is just beginning.
I don’t know much about Bowdoin. This seems, unfortunately, to be expected. I like the donor’s response – the president’s petty grandstanding is an overreach that motivates. Smugness enrages.
Today we skim over Longfellow, but once readers looked forward to his next narrative poem as an event. Longfellow also took academia and his languages seriously – developing a modern language program at Bowdoin; Harvard then drew him away to develop a similar program for them and he did. As we read a poem or two, I mention his Morituri Salutamus. Longfellow’s theme is similar but he hasn’t the power of Tennyson’s Ulysses. However this occasional poem is personal; his classmates, the classes of 1824 and 1825, at Bowdoin were some of his closest friends all his life. While he was the most popular American poet, a classmate and friend was Hawthorne. The novelist also remained intensely grateful and loyal to Franklin Pierce; a friendship begun at Bowdoin lasted until Hawthorne’s death. A fourth gained his fame more indirectly: Calvin Stowe’s interest in theology was shared with the famous Beecher family; his wife became a novelist with the broad audience Longfellow found. Clearly all were shaped by those years at Bowdoin. Read the rest of this entry »
I have been kind of neutral on the whole gay marriage issue. I think it began as an artifact of the AIDS epidemic and an attempt to curb the promiscuity of male gay life. In the early days of the epidemic, I had to inform a very nice nuclear engineer that he was HIV positive. This was well before treatment had developed and it was a death sentence. He told me it was impossible because he had been in a monogamous relationship with his partner for ten years. What could I say ? I once had to inform a nice lady who was a Christian Scientist that she had breast cancer. Her response was that she was losing her breast and her religion at the same time.
It has been taken over by activists who are determined to validate their life style and to force conventional society to accept it as equivalent to heterosexual family life, which it is not. It is surprising the success they have had with the young who seem to accept the argument that it is a “civil rights” issue, which is, of course, nonsense. Mark Steyn usually has something worthwhile to say on most subjects and this time is no exception.
Gays will now be as drearily suburban as the rest of us. A couple of years back, I saw a picture in the paper of two chubby old queens tying the knot at City Hall in Vancouver, and the thought occurred that Western liberalism had finally succeeded in boring all the fun out of homosexuality.
He does have a sense of humor amid reflections on a dying culture.
In the upper echelons of society, our elites practice what they don’t preach. Scrupulously nonjudgmental about everything except traditional Christian morality, they nevertheless lead lives in which, as Charles Murray documents in his book Coming Apart, marriage is still expected to be a lifelong commitment. It is easy to see moneyed gay newlyweds moving into such enclaves, and making a go of it. As the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said just before his enthronement the other day, “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.” “Stunning”: What a fabulous endorsement! But, amongst the type of gay couple that gets to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he’s probably right.
The problem, as pointed out years ago by Vice President Dan Quayle, is that the elites set the pattern for those whose lives cannot succeed without the structures of traditional society. They set the pattern, unfortunately, by what they say, not what they do.
(Originally posted in October of 2010. I was reminded of this post by Stuart Schneiderman’s post here about the growing acceptance of the idea that government knows best what’s good for everyone..and should have the power to make them do it. I should note that Cass Sunstein is no longer an Obama Czar but is back to being a law professor.)
I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s novel, Freedom, but Erin O’Connor has been reading it and reviews it here. Based on her summary, it seems that Franzen’s basic opinion about freedom is this: he doesn’t like it very much. Consider for example these excerpts:
…the American experiment of self-government, an experiment statistically skewed from the outset, because it wasn’t the people with sociable genes who fled the crowded Old World for the new continent; it was the people who didn’t get along well with others.…also: The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.
“Freedom,” for Franzen, is a red herring. As a national ideal, it paralyzes us, preventing government from behaving with the rationalism of European nations (there are passages about this in the book). And, on a personal level, it is simply immiserating. Every last one of Franzen’s major characters suffers from the burden of too many choices.
In a novel, of course, one cannot assume that opinions expressed by the characters are those of the author himself–but in this case, it seems to me that they likely are, and this opinion appears to be shared by most commenters at Erin’s post.
What really struck me in Erin’s review is her remark that I am starting to think that this novel may amount to a fictional companion piece for Cass Sunstein’s Nudge..the referenced work being not a novel, but a book about social, economic, and political policy co-authored by Cass Sunstein, who is now runnning the Office of Regulatory and Information Policy for the Obama administration. (See a review of Nudge, Erin’s post about the book, and my post about some of Sunstein’s policy ideas.)
Someone for reasons unknown last week leaked the classified Department of Justice “White Paper” on targeting with drone attacks the numerically tiny number of US citizens overseas who have joined al Qaida or affiliated groups. The leak set off an outburst of public debate, much of it ill-informed by people who did not bother to read the white paper and some of it intentionally misleading by those who had and, frankly, know better.
Generally, I’m a harsh critic of the Holder DOJ, but their white paper, though not without some minor flaws of reasoning and one point of policy, is – unlike some of the critics – solidly in compliance with the laws of war, broader questions of international law and the major SCOTUS decisions on war powers. It was a political error to classify this document in the first place rather than properly share it with the relevant Congressional committees conducting oversight
Here it is and I encourage you to read it for yourself:
Much of this white paper debate has been over a legitimate policy dispute (“Is it a good idea if we use drones to kill AQ terrorists, including American ones?”) intentionally being mischaracterized by opponents of the policy (or the war) as a legal or constitutional question. It is not. The law is fairly settled as is the question if the conflict with AQ rises to a state of armed conflict, which SCOTUS dealt with as recently as Hamdi and for which there are ample precedents from previous wars and prior SCOTUS decisions to build upon. At best, framed as a legal dispute, the opponents of the drone policy would have a very long uphill climb with the Supreme Court. So why do it? Read the rest of this entry »
(I originally posted this in July of last year. I thought it might be appropriate for a rerun given that so many otherwise-intelligent commentators are currently falling for the idea that the Obamaites truly and naively believe in “equality of outcomes.” In reality they believe in no such thing, but are conducting horizontal class warfare with the intent of collapsing the multiple ladders of success that have traditionally existed in American society into a single ladder, with access tightly controlled by people like themselves.)
Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.
To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’treally believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.
Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.
Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?
The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?
There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.
The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton was paid in speaking fees last year, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.
To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.
Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:
One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim… It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.
The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.
(I originally posted this in late 2007…I was reminded of it by the recent story about the Obama administration’s propaganda video game featuring space aliens, global warming, and gender issues)
My post today is inspired by In the Beginning was the Command Line, by Neal Stephenson, a strange little book that will probably be found in the “computers” section of your local bookstore. While the book does deal with human interfaces to computer systems, its deeper subject is the impact of media and metaphors on thought processes and on work.
Stephenson contrasts the explicit word-based interface with the graphical or sensorial interface. The first (which I’ll call the textual interface) can be found in a basic UNIX system or in an old-style PC DOS system or timesharing terminal. The second (the sensorial interface) can be found in Windows and Mac systems and in their respective application programs.
As a very different example of a sensorial interface, Stephenson uses something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.
The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.
In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.
…a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.
The next panel shows a mustacioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.
The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.
Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most viewers will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.
I’d observe that as a general matter, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface. It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.