Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Best Which Has Been Thought and Said

While I wait for this spell of literary laryngitis to resolve itself, I decided to go back through the archives and pick a few dozen of my favorites for a "greatest hits" retrospective.

You're the Sounds I Never Heard Before, Off the Map Where the Wild Things Grow, Another World Outside My Door

We Came From the Breeze

Alphabet Soup

He Don't Lie, He Don't Lie, He Don't Lie — Montaigne

As Below, So Above

Innocence, In a Sense

How Much Reverence Has a Noble Man for His Enemies!

Cliques Nix Politics

The Play Is Always Going On, and the Play's the Thing

Children Having Their Fun With the Blues

A Hundred Roots Silently Drinking

The Recline of Western Civilization (Slight Return)

Clouds In My Coffee

The Gorgon Gaze of the Expectant Audience

In the Shadow of Reason

Speak to Me In a Language I Can Hear

Devil Take the Hindmost

Santutthi Paramam Dhanam

Fill Your Heroes

Death Rehearsal

The Good That I Would, I Do Not

Irritable Vowel Syndrome

Bros Before Prose

Nowhere You Are

Cosmetic Palette

Not Wise, but Otherwise

What's It All About When You Sort It Out?

A Brotherhood

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Pseu-Pseu-Pseudo, I Just Say the Word

Textual Harrassment

When I Said I Understood, I Only Knew Where to Stand

Dream Dream, Filling Up an Idle Hour

So I Shut It All Off, I'm a Happy Idiot

All You True Believers, You Gotta Move On With Your Lives

Sui Generic (Slight Return)

If You Sweep Up This Mess I've Created, Nothing's Left to Show I Existed

A Dog and a Man Who Walked Together for a Time

The Word Made Grilled Flesh

Empty Free Unplugged

I Am No Better, and Neither Are You

A Philosopher for Everyone and No One

Sciapods, Blemmyes, and Panotii, Oh My!

There Goes the Neighborhood

And If My Interest Is Waning, I Can't Fake It

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ghosts of Who We Used to Be, I'm Just Tryin' to Find My Way

Joshua Rothman:

Often, after a way of talking has obviously outlived its usefulness, a period of inarticulateness ensues; it’s not yet clear how we should talk going forward. 

So there I was, reading this review of J.D. Vance's much-talked-about book, Hillbilly Elegy, wondering when I might finally find something that inspired me to write, when these words separated themselves from their context and leapt off the page to slap my cheek.

Yesterday marked eleven years since I started this blog. (I didn't start writing regularly for a few more, but still.) A lot changes over a decade-plus, especially if you're still fairly young at the start. The cumulative effect of all that change is that I find myself wondering if this particular "way of talking" has outlived its usefulness. I have certainly felt inarticulate lately, plagued by a strange sense of not knowing what to say about this, that or the other — or, perhaps, simply not feeling the need to bother saying it. It's not depression, or exhaustion, or anything like that. I don't even think of it as "writer's block" — I have plenty of things I could say, I just don't feel like saying them here, in this context. They don't seem to measure up to some inscrutable standard I've somehow set for myself. I'm not sure what that's about.

I've felt like this before, and that, too passed. Maybe this will as well. But like the Ship of Theseus, I suspect that enough tiny details have slowly changed over time to make this a different situation. Much of what I thought and was willing to say in print a decade ago seems callow and superficial to me now, but I haven't yet come up with a positive replacement for it. "I've changed my mind so much I can't even trust it/My mind changed me so much I can't even trust myself", said Issac Brock. Is time and patience the only cure? Or should I change scenery and start posting exclusively at my other sites, laying this one to rest like putting away childish things?

I don't know, but at least writing it down seems like an improvement.

Monday, September 05, 2016

She's So Heavy

Lena Dunham:

Despite my moments of bravado, I struggle at industry events (and in life) with the sense that I don't rep a certain standard of beauty and so when I show up to the Met Ball surrounded by models and swan-like actresses it's hard not to feel like a sack of flaming garbage. This felt especially intense with a handsome athlete as my dinner companion and a bunch of women I was sure he'd rather be seated with. But I went ahead and projected these insecurities and made totally narcissistic assumptions about what he was thinking, then presented those assumptions as facts. 

Projected insecurities and narcissistic assumptions! I'd like to think that this brief glimpse of undiluted self-awareness will have a lasting effect on her, but I doubt it. Lena, dear, as long as we're being honest and confessional here, you've never been fooling anyone but yourself. No amount of inspirational rhetoric about body positivity, no number of photos taken of you sitting naked on the toilet stuffing your face with cake, will ever change the fact that this has always been a sad, pathetic attempt to beat your critics to the punch by "owning" your weaknesses. Aggressively flaunting your insecurities doesn't make them go away; it just becomes a new role for you to get trapped in.

That's the weird thing about Generation Safe Space — for whatever reason, the pendulum has swung back into learned helplessness. There are countless people who are fat and unattractive but manage to accept it and get on with their lives. People like Dunham, or Lindy West, are especially tiresome because they clearly desperately want to be among the beautiful people, but rather than put in the effort necessary to achieve it, they try to pre-empt the possibility of failure by refusing to play, claiming the game is rigged, and like so many people who have sat through media studies classes, they think that there are no such things as innate preferences that can't be re-engineered through advertising and lecturing. Honestly, diet and exercise, however tough it can be, is still much easier than wasting that time and energy on endless rationalizations. Changing your own habits is much more likely to succeed than subjecting society to a propaganda barrage in the hope of making obese homeliness the new beauty standard. And, you know, most people, even the beautiful ones, still have fears and insecurities. They just refuse to allow their lives to be defined by them. Whatever happened to simply refusing to give a shit about the opinions of superficial people who judge you on appearance?

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Tide Is High but We're Holding On

Razib Khan:

When Dreger pointed approvingly on Twitter to University of Chicago’s statement on “safe spaces,” I told her that most of my liberal Twitter follows were enthusiastically sharing this piece, UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power. The piece makes some coherent points, but mostly it is self-congratulatory intellectual masturbation. At a certain point the cultural Left no longer made any pretense to being liberal, and transformed themselves into “progressives.” They have taken Marcuse’s thesis in Repressive Tolerance to heart.

Though I hope that Dreger and her fellow travelers succeed in rolling back the clock, I suspect that the battle here is lost. She points out, correctly, that the total politicization of academia will destroy its existence as a producer of truth in any independent and objective manner. More concretely, she suggests it is likely that conservatives will simply start to defund and direct higher education even more stridently than they do now, because they will correctly see higher education as purely a tool toward the politics of their antagonists. I happen to be a conservative, and one who is pessimistic about the persistence of a public liberal space for ideas that offend. If progressives give up on liberalism of ideas, and it seems that many are (the most famous defenders of the old ideals are people from earlier generations, such as Nadine Strossen and Wendy Kaminer, with Dreger being a young example), I can’t see those of us in the broadly libertarian wing of conservatism making the last stand alone.

Honestly, I don’t want any of my children learning “liberal arts” from the high priests of the post-colonial cult. In the near future the last resistance on the Left to the ascendency of identity politics will probably be extinguished, as the old guard retires and dies naturally. The battle will be lost. Conservatives who value learning, and intellectual discourse, need to regroup. Currently there is a populist mood in conservatism that has been cresting for a generation. But the wave of identity politics is likely to swallow the campus Left with its intellectual nihilism. Instead of expanding outward it is almost certain that academia will start cannibalizing itself in internecine conflict when all the old enemies have been vanquished.

During my romantic youth, I read the autobiography of Russell Means, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement. As an ethnic liberation movement sticking it to The White Man, AIM was, of course, beloved by left-wing radicals. Means, though, was interesting, and not just because he eventually ended up running for President on the Libertarian party ticket a couple times (once as Larry Flynt's running mate). I recall him talking about how, when he finally served a couple years in federal prison, he made an effort to read Marx at the urging of fellow radicals, only to conclude that Marx's view of the environment was just as acquisitive and destructive as any capitalist's. In the mid-'80s, he burned all the bridges to his left by supporting MISURASATA, a rebellious coalition of Nicaraguan Indians, against the Sandinistas. As he tells it, the Indian regions under Somoza had been self-sufficient and largely self-governing, but the Sandinistas were determined to impose forced integration and relocation upon them, using all the tools of traditional colonialism. When he tried to spread the word about the movement, he found that he was effectively blacklisted from the same universities that had happily supported him just a few years earlier — until the Unification Church, the infamous Moonies, stepped in to give him a platform for a speaking tour. This choice of bedfellows, combined with his political heresy, cemented his former allies' opinions of him. He never supported the Contras, or the Moonies, for that matter, but the mere fact of his association with groups like that, however strategically self-serving, was enough to pronounce him guilty.

So, yes, Alice Dreger. I read her book last year and liked it. I see from Razib's post that she recently delivered the FIRE 2016 keynote address, which I'm sure has likewise cemented hostile opinions about her. Like many others, she seems to hold faith in some Platonic ideal of "liberalism" different from the way liberalism is actually practiced today; like Razib, I am impressed by her tenacity, but suspect she's fighting a losing battle. The first article I read about her quoted her as being "uncomfortable" with the fact that she was attracting more conservative followers on Twitter, and last fall, she was still trying to distance herself from the dreaded c-word, for all the good that will do. I'm not saying she, or anyone else, should just give in and identify with the term; I'm saying that there is no point in hoping that you will be granted an exemption from slander due to your impeccable integrity. If you cross the party line, you'll be treated just as uncharitably as any other caricature. As long as you fear excommunication, it's a weakness, and people will sense that and exploit it.

I love the ideal, the fantasy, of academia. Easy to do, of course, from the naive perspective of a bookworm with a mere high-school diploma and a Whitman's Sampler of community college classes to his credit. But a life devoted to reading, researching and writing while cloistered away in a library still tickles my fancy. It may simply be that a clownish curmudgeon like Morris Berman had the right idea after all — those who value such ideals will have to find a way to practice and preserve them without institutional support, without recognition, until one day, hopefully, when the intellectual climate changes for the better.

Your Menstruating Heart, It Ain't Bleedin' Enough for Two

Well worth a read: "The Politics of Kindness in 2016", by Brandon Ambrosino. Equally worth reading are two articles cited, but not linked, in his piece: "The Case Against Liberal Compassion", by William Voegeli, and "Virtue Signaling: Why Political Debates on the Internet Are So Often Pointless", by Dan Sanchez.