Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I'm Not the One Who's Tryin' to Be Your Enemy


Up from below. For universal rights or against them. In support of egalitarianism or in support of the vicious inequalities of “meritocracy.” These are the conflicts. If you’re a conservative who thinks that black people in poverty in Detroit deserve it because of a supposed culture of dependence, you’re my enemy. If you’re J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, and you think white people in poverty in the Cincinnati suburbs deserve it because they don’t take initiative in their own lives, you’re my enemy. If you’re Donald Trump and you think undocumented immigrants deserve to be kicked out of the country, you’re my enemy. If you’re some wealthy liberal aristocrat writer, sneering down at the rubes and condemning them to misery because you’ve decided they’re all bigots, you’re my enemy. People deserve their suffering or they don’t. I say they don’t. That’s it, that’s all there is.

Honestly, Freddie should just go ahead and find religion if he wants to keep arguing over metaphysics such as whether people "deserve" their lot in life. He's already got the instinct for martyrdom, and it's just being wasted in the political arena. Why quibble over a trifling detail like whether Christianity is "true" or not when you so clearly believe in its otherwordly moral vision? If you're ready to burn at the stake for the sake of a world in which politics is the ultimate cure for suffering, how is it any more of an affront to your intellectual integrity to accept doctrines of virgin births and resurrected corpses?

As an aside, if you can read Hillbilly Elegy, or listen to J.D. Vance's public talks, and come away with the conclusion that he thinks poor white people "deserve" their poverty simply because he doesn't agree that the state is ultimately and totally responsible for their well-being, you are a Manichean ideologue (as all the Matthew 12:30-style rhetoric would suggest) and a self-made idiot. There's always the possibility that you could just be another hack willing to be dishonest when convenient, but I, too, am capable of being idealistic.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Give Me That New-Time Religion

Kevin D. Williamson:

Fury’s version of things is the opposite of Lilla’s tolerant liberalism: To be the right sort of people, we must be feminists, and to be feminists, we must have opinions on . . . everything, and assign to the entirety of the universe moral gradations based upon the feminist position that all of the right sort of people must assume.

Glenn Loury:
A regime of political correctness is a moral signaling equilibrium in which people who don’t want to be thought of as being on the wrong side of history will suppress an honest expression of what they believe about some controversial issue because people who are known to be on the wrong side of history are prominently saying the same things.

It's facile, and usually misleading, to say that "Such-and-such-phenomenon is like a religion." But it does seem clear that the strongest motivation behind the phenomenon we call political correctness is a desire to classify humans as either the saved or the damned, even, or especially, at the expense of making practical political improvements. Perhaps Joseph Bottum was on to something.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I Will Fear No Evil

S. Abbas Raza:

UNDERSTANDING THE OTHER SIDE: Only a fraction of the articles we post are normally about politics but it is also true that the editors of 3QD are all (to a person) liberal progressives and none of us supported or voted for Donald Trump. In the interest of dialogue and trying to understand the conservative point of view better, I have decided to start occasionally posting relatively well-argued articles from the right side of the political spectrum. Some of these are sent to me by friends who did vote for Trump. (And, yes, I have such friends and hope you do too.) Trust me, it will not hurt you to read them. I hope that people will keep the comments civil and focused on the issues, and not engage in ad hominem attacks. This is the first of this series.

As a wanderer enduring self-imposed exile from the the Republic of Arts and Letters, my beloved homeland which has long been occupied by ideological invaders, this gave me some welcome mirth. 3QD is one of the better link-aggregator sites around, but their focus on culture and science is, as he says, predictably progressive. It's funny that their readership needs such comforting assurances before being confronted with an alien perspective — I find myself thinking of Grover Norquist's remarks about how being a right-wing student in the Ivy League had a "boy named Sue" quality to it. Progressives could certainly use a similar toughening-up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Man Hears What He Wants to Hear and Disregards the Rest

A Guardian writer lifts a finger to the prevailing winds of opinion and urges his audience to break out of their leftist filter bubble by reading a few conservative sites. Not for the purpose of encountering, and maybe even understanding, contrary points of view, but because occasionally, some of these sites offer perspectives which neatly overlap with pre-existing leftist assumptions. Whew, that was easier than I thought! Those people aren't all bloodthirsty barbarians after all! Some of them even occasionally approach the enlightened heights where my peers and I dwell! I can't wait to tweet about how judicious and open-minded I am right after I take a shower.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Florist, the Baker, the Fashion Tastemaker

It is, of course, true that unpopular stances, such as being opposed to gay marriage, should have the same right to express dissent through the marketplace as popular stances, such as fashion designers refusing to serve Melania Trump. What precisely do we mean by "right," though? In the case of Arlene's Flowers, many people would agree that while nothing technically illegal has occurred, it's still morally wrong that a small business can be driven to bankruptcy in order to make an example of thoughtcrime. It looks like bullying. It looks like disproportionate punishment. It looks like, as someone joked recently, the culture wars have ended, and the victors are now driving around summarily executing prisoners of war for sport. Do we expect that magnanimity and mercy should prevail, that people should refrain from choosing punitive justice through the courts even though the option exists? Or do we envision equal "rights" as entailing that outraged progressives should be just as quick to demand that Sophie Theallet be financially punished?

Personally, I would love to see people outgrow the childish notion that their financial transactions can be confined to circles of moral purity, like a micro form of crony capitalism. Only through extremely selective attention can we avoid noticing how much of the money we earn and spend can be "linked" to organizations and schemes of which we would personally disapprove. Rather than withdraw into fantasies of self-sufficient, morally monolithic communes, or of a post-capitalist future in which all such social divisions have been transcended, perhaps our time would be better spent practicing how to be gracious and patient toward those in our out-group. Technically, the customer may always be right, but it's bad form to abuse that advantage.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

And Now That We Have Totally Lost All Composure We Will Wither From Exposure Beneath the Sun

Scott Alexander does his usual thing, and it's glorious to behold. It's like finding a genuine oasis after a week spent crawling through a social media desert.

It's funny — for eight years now, I have remembered this Daily Show clip where a McCain supporter tells John Oliver that if Obama is elected, he's going to "put on his turban" and "we're all gonna be shot!" For all these years, that represented the gold standard of partisan political insanity to me. I thought of that woman on several occasions during that time, wondering if and when she ever realized how ridiculous she sounded. The other day, however, the Lady of the House was showing me some of the screeds being posted by her Facebook friends, and I swear, no exaggeration, I saw an ostensibly-educated professional woman from one of the bluest cities in the nation — no ignorant, uninformed backwoods yokel here — worrying about whether she would be capable of throwing a punch or outrunning pursuers (Trumpist brownshirts, I presume), and even pondering whether these extreme circumstances meant she should consider buying a gun. From there, she seriously, no exaggeration, started musing about being willing to hide minorities and LGBT in her house (again, Trumpist stromtroopers are apparently going to be conducting house-to-house searches for enemies of the state when they're not chasing random progressives down the suburban streets), as if she's in the French Resistance.

In an idiocracy, political discourse vacillates between the hashtag and the swastika.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Rhetorical Hyperinflation

Ed West:

But the collective hysteria that followed shows what happens when Nazi Germany crowds out all other history. The poverty of peoples’ collective memory and imagination is such that the first minute any politician strays from the path of universalism, commentators reach for the most shocking (and only) historical comparison they can think of.

It is tediously predictable that every progressive political setback is treated as a harbinger of incipient fascism. I have become so jaded by this that I was almost delighted to see the term "Stalin-esque purge" being used in reference to routine personnel shuffling among Trump's advisers. Finally, a new twist on the tired old theme! You mean he's already had tens of thousands of underlings executed or sent south to work on constructing the Mexican border wall with their bare hands on starvation rations? No? You mean this is just more absurd hyperbole from people already lacking in all credibility? At this rate, will they even have anything left by January when he's actually sworn in?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Ran So Far Away, I Couldn't Get Away

Neoconservatives used to joke, during the heady days of seemingly-imminent American empire, that "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." Richard Dawkins has apparently repurposed that slogan, deciding that Canada is just oh-so-passé; real rational liberals want to flee to New Zealand.

I spent some time traveling around the progressive blogosphere, visiting sites I haven't been to in many years. From Atrios and Digby down through the also-rans and lesser lights, they seem to have settled on racism, sexism and inveterate stupidity as the culprits behind Trump's victory. In other words, nothing to learn here, move along, more of the same, please. Four more years of in-group signaling and emotionally incontinent ranting that changes no minds and accomplishes nothing. I can't say I expected any differently.

Friday, November 11, 2016

It Will Always Be the End of Time, the End of Law, the End of Life

I hate to discourage a welcome moment of self-awareness, but back in the day, I heard plenty of Democrats convincing themselves that Bush and Cheney were also fascists — excuse me, "fashists" — who would refuse to leave office at the end of their term. Come back when you've got a bronze political sobriety chip, and maybe we'll see about letting you attend gatherings again.

Sometime the Wolf

When the lambs is lost in the mountain, he said. They is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.

― Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

It's a nice thought, but the lambs have been lost in the mountains and crying about identity politics for over fifty years now. Even with the wolf closing in, they can't imagine doing anything differently. There has been plenty of theorizing about what Trump will mean for the philosophical reorientation of the GOP. It remains to be seen whether the left will be capable of anything more than perfunctory self-criticism, and I am certainly pessimistic in that regard, but the need for a conceptual overhaul is no less dire in their case.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

You've Lost That Blogging Feeling, Bring Back That Blogging Feeling

Adam Kirsch:

But in fact Swing Time is a sober book, even—at times—a depressive one. It feels like the kind of book novelists write when they have come to the end of their own favorite themes and techniques. There is less of the excitement of discovery, of getting things down on paper that have not been observed before, and more of the resigned pleasure of understanding. There is less seeing, and more seeing through.

One of the reasons I like to read critics like Kirsch is that they often tend to illuminate unrelated topics just by virtue of their keen insights. I know nothing of Zadie Smith, and have no interest in her new book, but reading a review written under Kirsch's byline turns up a gem of a paragraph like this one.

It seems strange to think that my standards for writing could have outgrown my actual ability, but it certainly feels that way. In everyday life, I am an almost-comically predictable creature of routine and habit, but intellectually, I get quickly bored and easily restless. Once I've gained understanding or perspective to my satisfaction, the only thing left to do with that topic is to ironically joke about it for amusement. Once that gets tiresome...? I suppose that's where talented writers reinvent themselves somehow, or find new topics to explore. But I don't have the breadth or depth of knowledge to be a critic, merely enough to be impatient with my own limitations. Each day spent browsing online feels like more of the same — nothing exciting to discover, nothing I haven't already observed with tired eyes, nothing I haven't already seen through with weary cynicism. I don't know how people like David Thompson manage to keep doing it so well after so long; I feel like the Sisyphean monotony of making fun of the same stupid people doing the same stupid things on and on ad infinitum would drive me insane. I would rather sit in silence and wait for genuine inspiration than to feel trapped performing the role of a stock character of my own creation.

And so I read, and wait, while hopefully, life is slowly weaving together disparate threads that will eventually present themselves in the form of a serendipitous pattern.

Friday, November 4, 2016

I Won't Forget You, Even Though I Should

Michael Tomasky:

While that plays out, the least that we white Americans can do is to not ignore race. Some liberals used to pride themselves on saying they didn’t see race, which I always thought was fatuous, more about white self-regard than the reality of American life. No—as I learned at the water park, we have to make ourselves see it and think about it. 

As any meditating Buddhist can tell you, obsessing on your thoughts is a recipe for dissatisfaction. "Seeing and thinking about race" has been the default for white progressives for the last half-century at least; if doing so led to anything more productive than compulsively circling around rhetorical and conceptual dead ends, we would surely have seen those results by now. Tomasky relates a simple anecdote of minor social friction which was resolved thanks to people practicing some basic, universally-valid virtues: patience, respect, soft-speaking, and forgiveness. No need at all for a racial healing workshop, yet, predictably, this is what he decides we need. It's like a passage from one of Shelby Steele's books come to life.