Saturday, April 28, 2018

Obiter Dicta, no. 47

It is true that in certain acute and painful crises of oppression or disgrace, discontent is a duty and shame could call us like a trumpet. But it is not true that man should look at life with an eye of discontent, however high-minded. It is not true that in his primary, naked relation to the world, in his relation to sex, to pain, to comradeship, to the grave or to the weather, man ought to make discontent his ideal; it is black lunacy. Half his poor little hopes of happiness hang on his thinking a small house pretty, a plain wife charming, a lame foot not unbearable, and bad cards not so bad. The voice of the special rebels and prophets, recommending discontent, should, as I have said, sound now and then suddenly, like a trumpet. But the voices of the saints and sages, recommending contentment, should sound unceasingly, like the sea.

— G. K. Chesterton, "What Is Right With the World"

Sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, discontent is a means of distinguishing oneself. I have higher standards. I see further and deeper. I am too profound to be distracted or mollified by superficial baubles. To be happy with simple pleasures is to risk appearing a simpleton, or worse, to risk being forced to acknowledge how much one has in common with others. Most of our modern prophets are simply trying to reassure themselves of their own uniqueness in matters of both morality and taste.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Or You Live Long Enough to See Yourself Become the Villain

When the Atlantic was publishing 7800-word profiles about Kanye's genius, I grudgingly endured it. When Slate was analyzing his videos as if they were high art, I patiently withstood it. When some airheaded ditz at the Baffler tried to portray his shallow narcissism as artistic genius, I suffered it stoically. When the A.V. Club — back when they actually published interesting pieces about music and film before becoming just another interchangeable storefront staffed by snarky adolescents in the Woke Mall of America that counts as pop culture writing these days — kept genuflecting before his greatness, I politely overlooked it. Today, I have to say it was all worth it. All of it. I just hope the Internet is sturdy enough to contain the ocean of salty woke tears I've seen flowing through my feed this morning, because if the dams burst and that stuff saturates the earth, nothing will ever grow there for thousands of years and we'll all starve to death.

But still, this isn't a day for I-told-you-sos. This isn't a day for noting that I was anti-Kanye years before it was cool. This is a day for laughter and merriment. A day for relaxing after an intense period of work and travel. Now flow, tears, and soak your cheeks! rage! flow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Noteworthies (36)

• Douglas Dalrymple, "Jonah In Siberia"

• Jacob Bacharach, "Like a Dog"

• Theodore Dalrymple, "Jeremy Corbyn’s Jewish Problem"

• Matthew Continetti, "The Battle of Woke Island"

• Kevin Williamson, "When the Twitter Mob Came for Me" (may be paywalled, but you can find the URL on Twitter and access it there)

• Bradley Campbell, "Kevin Williamson, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Victimhood Culture"

• John McGinnis, "Explaining the New Illiberal Liberalism"

• David Marcus, "Five Big, Fat Lies Free Speech Opponents Love," and related, "Nice place you've got here..."

• "Progress Man" summarizes Steven Pinker's new book.

Truth. Especially about the lizard people.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Obiter Dicta, no. 46

Sociology (Tocqueville's discipline, and the one practiced in this book), for instance, has largely been captured by the view that inequalities are the most prevalent and most consequential things around. That view is so forcefully held and so apparently beyond criticism that it has become not only virtually synonymous with the dominant vision of what politics is for but virtually sacrosanct, too. For many sociologists, there just isn't anything else to care about more than inequality, and there just isn't anything else to do but to combat it politically.

— James Poulos, The Art of Being Free: How Alexis de Tocqueville Can Save Us From Ourselves

As the saying of unknown origin goes, it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. It's funny to think that all the ceaseless chattering about inequality is just this century's version of Freudian psychology, a fleeting intellectual fashion among the intelligentsia, soon to be deservedly ignored. It's liberating to hear it summed up so concisely like this; it reminds you that there's life outside this stifling, insular climate of opinion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hands All Over Words I Utter, Change Them Into What You Want to Like Balls of Clay

Sunday, June 12th, 1994 is a date more commonly associated with the beginning of the O.J. Simpson media circus, but what I remember is that the Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville had its grand opening on the 10th, and this was my first time visiting the store. The book I bought that day was Indians 'R' Us, a collection of essays and articles by the not-yet-infamous Ward Churchill. One of the chapters, an excoriating attack on the poet Robert Bly, dealt with the topic of what would today be called "appropriation" of Indian culture by white people. In it, Churchill (who, ironically, would later be accused of having fabricated his own Indian heritage) not only argued that white people looking to reject their oppressive colonial European heritage should stick to romanticizing their own barbarian ancestors ("Proud to be a Visigoth-American!"), but that the word "tribe" was especially offensive because it was formerly used in reference to livestock, thus equating non-European people with cattle. Cattle=>cattle cars=>genocide=>Nazi Germany=U.S.A. Q.E.D! Again, 1994. Dylan Matthews and the rest of the Vox Media cohort were probably busy tattling on the naughty language of their seventh-grade peers and doodling heroic portraits of Bill Clinton on their Trapper-Keeper notebooks back then, blissfully unaware that a quarter-century later, their every banal thought would have already been voiced by a soon-to-be disgraced ethnic studies professor. I'm trying to imagine the appropriate inverse of the old "dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants" image and failing.

Point is, besides the fact that there is absolutely nothing new under the left-wing sun, by resurrecting this idea, Dylan Matthews, and by slippery-slope extension, Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias and all the rest of the interchangeable Voxplaining millennial media morons, have placed themselves in rhetorical solidarity with the man who infamously called the people working in the WTC on 9/11 "little Eichmanns," while implicitly endorsing his own appropriation of Indian culture as well. I'm pretty sure that's how this guilt-by-association thing works. Now, even those of us who wouldn't have read Vox even if you'd paid us have to feign an attack of the vapors and loudly announce our intention to withhold money we weren't going to spend from companies we never patronize for advertising on a website we never visit while patting ourselves on the back for our moral integrity; the offending parties need to be placed under economic embargo until they're forced to resign; and they can never hold a job that pays more than eleven dollars an hour again. Hey, I don't make the outrage-mob rules, I just observe them.

Monday, April 16, 2018

How Did My Soul Rise Again From These Graves?

Jason Kottke, in 2013:

The blog is dead, long live the blog

Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice.

Jason Kottke, today:

Blogging is most certainly not dead

Social media is as compelling as ever, but people are increasingly souring on the surveillance state Skinner boxes like Facebook and Twitter. Decentralized media like blogs and newsletters are looking better and better these days…

Well, one thing has definitely remained constant over the years: this guy is not a very deep thinker.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Obiter Dicta, no. 45

If I were to ask myself where and when I have been happiest, I could of course give the obvious answers, as true of me as of everybody else; at some dance or feast of the romantic time of life; at some juvenile triumph of debate; at some sight of beautiful things in strange lands. But it is much more important to remember that I have been intensely and imaginatively happy in the queerest because the quietest places. I have been filled with life from within in a cold waiting-room in a deserted railway junction. I have been completely alive sitting on an iron seat under an ugly lamp-post at a third-rate watering place. In short, I have experienced the mere excitement of existence in places that would commonly be called as dull as ditch-water.

— G. K. Chesterton, "The Spice of Life"

I happened to read this passage just after having attended a biannual library sale, one of the high points of my year. There's this small, brick retaining wall around the back of the library, near the entrance to the nonfiction room. Shaded by trees, surrounded by ivy, invisible from almost anywhere else in the vicinity and unremarkable to anyone who does happen to notice it, it's one of my favorite places to sit while thinking about everything and nothing. I generally arrive at that sale more than two hours early just to have some time to myself, sitting on my wall, thinking about how good life can be in the most mundane circumstances. I'm already looking forward to revisiting it in the autumn.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Obiter Dicta, no. 44

If an American should be reduced to occupying himself with his own affairs, at that moment half his existence would be snatched from him; he would feel it as a vast void in his life and would become incredibly unhappy.

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Where am I? Delaware? Pennsylvania? Maryland? No, that was last month. New York? Ohio? No, that's later this spring. North Carolina, then? Sounds likely. Well, whatever the case, from this hotel in Somewhere, U.S.A., let me say that as I continue to have no time for reading online about politics, culture, and current events, I can only laugh in the face of Tocqueville's ghost. Bounded in the nutshell of my own affairs, I count myself a king of infinite space.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Spaying and Neutering

David Marcus:

The Left generally argues that part of free speech is exercising it to marginalize the incorrect speech of others. It is a kind of natural selection in which aggressively opposing certain viewpoints is used to banish those viewpoints from responsible mainstream discourse.

It's an interesting article, but I would suggest a better metaphor here is intellectual eugenics. Like their original progressive forefathers, natural selection is far too slow and inefficient for them, and besides, there's always the chance you might lose a fair contest. Better to have them, as self-appointed experts, decide which thought-criminals need to have their careers compulsorily sterilized to prevent them from inseminating unwary readers or listeners with their atavistic ideas. The dream of purifying the body politic of moral degeneracy never went away; it just morphed from a fixation on biology to one on ideology. Seizing the means of intellectual reproduction, you might say.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Obiter Dicta, no. 43

I cannot understand why so many modern people like to be regarded as slaves. I mean the most dismal and degraded sort of slaves; moral and spiritual slaves. Popular preachers and fashionable novelists can safely repeat that men are only what their destiny makes them; and that there is no choice or challenge in the lot of man. Dean Inge declares, with a sort of gloomy glee, that some absurd American statistics or experiments show that heredity is an incurable disease and that education is no cure for it. Mr. Arnold Bennett says that many of his friends drink too much; but that it cannot be helped, because they cannot help it. I am not Puritanic about drink; I have drunk all sorts of things; and in my youth, often more than was good for me. But in any conceivable condition, drunk or sober, I should be furious at the suggestion that I could not help it. I should have wanted to punch the head of the consoling fatalist who told me so. Yet nobody seems to punch the heads of consoling fatalists.

— G. K. Chesterton, "On a Humiliating Heresy"

Good point. Let's ask an expert.

There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life. Moreover, when we have an alibi for not writing a book, painting a picture, and so on, we have an alibi for not writing the greatest book and not painting the greatest picture. Small wonder that the effort expended and the punishment endured in obtaining a good alibi often exceed the effort and grief requisite for the attainment of a most marked achievement.

— Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind: And Other Aphorisms

Friday, April 6, 2018

Souls of Damnation In Their Own Reality

Alastair Roberts:

Healthy engagement requires careful management and channelling of our emotions, ensuring that we are not driven by dysfunctional reactivity, but that we have the sort of well-ordered loves, selves, and societies that enable us to respond, rather than merely react. What this looks like will vary for different people. For most people, it probably requires radically paring down social media presence and activity. It almost certainly requires practicing solitude, or at least significantly cutting down on the intensity of one’s social exposure, spending more time in obscurer social contexts. For all of us, it requires the practice of those disciplines that will cultivate strong and virtuous character in us, so that we will be less at the mercy of our environments.

I've been far too busy with work and travel lately to read much online (and, just so you know, with the busy season continuing through late May, soon to be followed by the World Cup, that may continue to be the case for a while). Now, I love reading and writing as much as anything on Earth. But today was a one-day respite from the hectic pace of the rest of the week, where I had time to browse at leisure, and I have to admit, I had an almost-sinking feeling as I sat down and prepared to go through my usual smorgasbord of bookmarks. Do I really want to do this? I was mentally flinching from the thought of exposing myself to all the usual effluvia and jackassery. Even a few days away from it is enough to make you feel acutely sensitive to the depleting effects. It feels like eating junk food for the first time in months after you've been eating healthily and working out — instantly disappointing and regrettable. Sometimes I'm lazily reluctant to do pushups or go hiking, too, but I know from constant experience that I always feel better afterward for having made the effort, and the benefits are clear. I'm not so sure exposing myself to the latest social media stupidity is comparable to a yoga routine, though. What mental muscles have I exercised by reading the latest garbage about parents trying to raise their children without gender?

There is certainly worthwhile stuff to read online. It's just a terrible shame that the overall environment where it exists is so permeated by toxicity. My body knows it even if my mind tries to rationalize it away. It's like the old days of going to a concert in a small venue and being disgusted the next morning by the putrid reek of secondhand smoke in your clothes. Even the best shows playing online take place within a dispiriting haze of secondhand stupidity, competing to be heard over a din of belligerent imbeciles.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Reuse, Recycle, Restore

As Nathan Hale famously said, I only regret that I had but one joke to make about progressive feminists being as dumb as bugs, and I already used it. Regrets are endlessly renewable, though, and I'll regret it again the next time Sarah Jones tweets something stupid, which is to say, the next time she logs in to her account.