Slander Is Loathsome… But So Is Intimidation

A clarification: yes, I’m very, very tired of being called names because of my genetic material. The argument that a particular biological type is responsible for vast misery, not because of conscious choices made by representatives of the type, but because of overriding instincts irresistible to the whole group, is definitively fascist. It isolates the entire enemy-group (males, blacks, whites, Jews, aborigines) without reference to its individuals—without extending to those individuals any possibility of redemption. We call a man bad because he elects to do bad deeds: to steal, to cheat, to betray. We don’t call him bad because he grew up in a culture where anyone may walk into another’s house and carry off a bit of food from the larder. We certainly don’t call him bad because he has curly dark hair, and we’ve decided that curly dark hair indicates “oversexed” DNA conducive to sexual aggression. That’s “witch hunt” stuff. The very possibility of a “good/bad” determination about moral character is removed if the subject cannot make willed choices; and, indeed, to insist that a person is bad for something over which he has no control is itself bad, in that the judge has refused the terms of common humanity to the judged.

I reiterate, then, that to call a male a sexual predator merely because of his sex, to call a Caucasian a genocidist merely because of his race, and so forth is pure Nazi-speak. It’s self-contradictory, hypocritical, arrogant, inhumane… and, by the way, quite stupid.

Here’s the clarification. I do NOT therefore endorse behavior which licenses our showering deliberate liars with obscenities, pushing them off the sidewalk, punching them in the kidney, or criminalizing their exercise of free speech. It didn’t even occur to me, frankly, that clarification was needed there. When you’re slandered, you have every right to stand up and denounce the slanderer—and even, usually, a moral duty to do so; for if you allow a crime to be committed against you today with impunity, then it will very likely be committed against someone else tomorrow. But a denunciation consists of a rational argument from the other side built upon coherent principles and adducing truthful evidence to expose the perpetrated fraud: it’s not a series of counter-slanders.

Especially in this case, where men are being accused of eyeing every woman for a chance to rape her, to “double team” the assailant with an assault of twice the vitriol—and backed up with real intimidation, such as threat of a gag order or physically outshouting the other party—makes one look like the very kind of man one has supposedly been slandered with being.

I know that a lot of people as fed up as I am (probably men, especially) cast their vote in the last election because they’d had enough. They lacked a forum to bellow, “Sit down and shut up!” so that it would be heard nationally, but they found a figurehead who—they thought—got this message across. Unfortunately, elevating a “bogeyman” figurehead doesn’t address the issues underlying our culturally pathological indulgence of lies that slander large groups within the nation: it only makes us more closely resemble the unfair caricature.

Thanks to the other side for circulating all these caricatures, in the first place—you of the educated elite, I mean, who’ve been railing against “stereotypes” for half a century. The “brutal male” wouldn’t be nearly so prominent in our cultural life if you hadn’t insisted that all males are brutal. The best way to raise a thief is to accuse a kid of stealing things all throughout his childhood. Just keep up your good work in this area, O Ivory Tower Beacon of Enlightenment!

As for me, I cannot consider a guy who slanders slanderers to be a champion of truth—and I certainly don’t consider men who’ve lost every trace of chivalry to be paradigms of manhood. This side, that side… I just see one side, and myself not in the middle but far beyond the perimeter. I wonder more every day if I’m alone.

 

Why Does Language Only Degenerate?

Among other things I’m doing to wear myself out and drive myself crazy during summer “vacation” is the complete overhaul of an introductory textbook that presents Latin and classical Greek together. Every time I muck about in an ancient language, I’m struck by how much of the system has already been lost when things start being recorded. It’s very odd. We all picture to ourselves, in our arrogantly progressive mindset, a bunch of cavemen slowly stringing words together and discovering the fine points of grammar. “Me see mammoth,” works its way at a glacial pace to, “I see mammoth”… and then to, “I saw a mammoth,” and so on.

But that’s not what the written record shows. Rather, by the time things are committed to stone or clay or parchment, case endings are already in full collapse. Latin must have had a distinct vocative (for calling out a person’s name) and a distinct locative (for identifying where something happens) among its other noun endings; for we see relics of both cases, and Sanskrit has in fact preserved both in much better repair. A lot of other endings, however, probably disappeared entirely. Accompaniment and manner are both expressed in the ablative (“with great praise” and “with a friend”), though they likely had separate spellings at some point in the distant past. Prepositions were born, in fact, as case endings were misremembered to the point that many started to sound alike. Most Latin endings, indeed, are almost identical with dative endings, and in Greek the ablative and dative had fused seamlessly. These languages were in full meltdown already as the first millennium before Christ began.

I’m just throwing this out there: something was going on about four or five thousand years ago whose magnitude we haven’t begun to suspect–something on the order of a cultural awakening, a global burst of inspiration and genius. The wild-eyed types who chatter away on Ancient Aliens will point to the Pyramids, Stonehenge, complex structures newly unearthed in southeastern Turkey, Mayan and Incan construction… and the question is always, “Could this intricate creation be the work of extraterrestrial visitors? Ancient alien theorists say ‘yes’!”

Well, in a way, that’s just playing the same progressive game: i.e., primitive humans were so stupid that they couldn’t have devised such wonders on their own. I’m not dismissing the ET explanation out of hand, because these matters are so mysterious that any sufficient answer has to be mind-blowing. But did a benign ET also give us the elaborate linguistic structures which proceeded to decay in our inept and lazy custody over the next few millennia? Or were we ourselves brilliant at one time, perhaps when we lived for the better part of two centuries like biblical patriarchs… and then we began to fall apart?

At the very least, there’s plenty enough mystery in human history to teach us more respect for pre-history than we commonly display–and to alert us, as well, that we’re very capable of great leaps backward as well as forward.

The Lessons of Working Up an Honest Sweat

Lately, I have been struggling to put up any new posts or to spend much time polishing what does get up. The reason is that the revision of a book I finished a year ago has sucked me in. Once I begin a project like this one, I can’t juggle very much else at the same time. I acquire a kind of vision of where the work should be going, and I need for my mind to cling closely to that vision as I wade through all the chapters that stray hither and yon from it. I can’t simply give the thing an hour’s attention one day and half an hour’s two days later: I have to maintain focus.

Before I start making myself sound like Michel de Montaigne, I should confess that the work in question is about baseball swings as taken a century ago with very different bats. Most people would find that admission a big let-down… “Oh! I thought maybe you were writing about the possibility of preserving our humanity as Artificial Intelligence absorbs more and more of our mental function.” I would scarcely redeem myself before such a commentator if I added that no book whatever exists on the subject, that casual references to yesteryear’s hitting techniques are ludicrously imprecise and inept, and that my crazy dream is eventually to teach some of what I’ve learned through research and experimentation to young people who’ve been told that they’re too small to play the game.

For, yes, there’s a kind of mission involved in this project. I watched my son get nudged aside and passed over for the better part of two decades as he tried to advance and improve in the game he so loved, all because of his size. It ticked me off. It still does, in retrospect. And so I started learning about hitting, and learning more… all of it too late to do him any good, of course; but one of the morals of my study is indeed that much of this sport depends on technique rather than size, and that it seems otherwise only because the professional gurus no longer know the old techniques.

I will add in this forum, though, that yet further and broader lessons might be gleaned from my work. One is that life generally is a terrain occupied by mutually supporting groups of “specialists” who understand nothing beyond their microscopic sphere of expertise—and who often don’t understand that, either, but unite to conceal their ignorance before a dazed public of “uninitiated outsiders”. I can say this confidently, because I have made myself an expert on the subject of yesteryear’s hitting in the game of baseball—and yet much of what I wrote about year ago in the book’s first version is utter crap. My satisfaction in how much I’ve learned lately is more or less neutralized by my chagrin at how wrong I got it all just a few months ago. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we should always remember that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Another lesson is that we forget our culture’s past at our own considerable risk. The assumption has been made in hitting instruction that the oldtimers were comical amateurs who practiced their art about the same way that the Wright brothers practiced flying. You don’t really think that Wilbur and Orville could teach you anything about your Cessna, do you? Probably not, in terms of handling the controls… but maybe they could tell you something about the fear of the unknown or about how to keep a cool head in a crisis.

Finally (just because I need to get on with it today), I have learned that a boy needs to try his hand at something physical, and that a man needs to retain that interest in the active. As politically incorrect as it is to say, boys are in more trouble than girls today because the insulated, safety-net society is more damaging to them. They need to undertake, to initiate… and that means that they must come to know failure well and learn to attack a resistant problem from a different angle. Baseball offers all sorts of opportunity to earn an advanced degree in failure: it breaks you heart. But it can also, for that very reason, teach you how to put a heart back together again.

As for grown men, they—we—need to get out from behind our keyboards once in a while and swing a bat, throw a ball, bail some hay, drive some nails (not with a pneumatic nail-gun, please)… they need to do something other than vegetate with their “ideas”. I’m convinced that quality of thought actually deteriorates as physical contact with the world of hard labor is lost. Indeed, almost all of our political and existential dilemmas in the West are owed somewhat to our losing touch with basic reality. When I was still trying to be a “scholar”, many moons ago, I wrote a little piece about a 2,500-year-old fragment of Sappho’s where she compares a woman getting married rather late in life to an apple that has grown high on the tree, out of reach of the pickers. I pointed out that these are the best fruit because they get so much sun: they grow the largest and taste the sweetest. Any ancient Greek hearing Sappho’s poem would have known that… but the great “scholar” who reviewed my piece could only sniff and turn up his nose because I hadn’t indicated another poet from whom Sappho might have borrowed the image. She borrowed it from life, stupid!

Thank God—and baseball—that my son hasn’t grown up to be a “scholar”!

Concerning Nixon…

Since mentioning Richard Nixon last time (in whose administration Pat Buchanan worked), I’ve been wanting to get a few things off my chest. I came of age during the Watergate years, and I think the picture that young people are painted of that most unfortunate time—by their teachers, their textbooks, and popular culture—is an utter travesty.

I distinctly recall reading (though I read it only once or twice; the media feeding frenzy quickly obscured such fine details in froth and body parts) that Nixon suspected McGovern of communicating with Fidel Castro. This may seem of no account to most of you now; but if you retained anything from your history books about the early Sixties, you remember that the Cuban Missile Crisis is rated as having had the potential to begin of World War III.   Now, I put it to you: if Castro was such a desperate character that Kennedy’s facing him and Khrushchev down saved the human race from extermination, as is popularly let out, then why should he have been considered a pussy cat a mere decade later?

Or if Trump’s colluding with Putin to steal our last election is a scenario whose mere specter should put all other business on indefinite hold, then why would credible intelligence that a presidential candidate had covertly communicated with a despot eager to nuke our shores not warrant looking into?

Nixon, of course, was loathed by the Left since the days when he successfully prosecuted Alger Hiss, a Soviet spy deeply secreted in D.C.’s corridors of power. Younger Americans will have been told that no threat from the Soviets (except the Cuban Missile Crisis) ever existed, and that the hunt for spies on our shores and within our government, especially, was an indefensible witch hunt. The idiotic word “McCarthyism” has now entered the parlance of both sides of the aisle—as if poor Joe McCarthy, a war hero and a simple man of the people, had any “-ism” behind his clumsy attempt to weed out traitors from his nation’s most sensitive sources of power and influence. Nixon’s star rose as McCarthy’s plunged into flaming descent.

McCarthy, to be sure, stirred up a deal of hysteria. Why wouldn’t he have? The nation’s children were being drilled in their schools for an all-out nuclear attack during these years. Nixon, likewise, was no black belt in public relations. His homely mug, his sanctimonious style, his irrepressible persecution complex, his self-consciousness about his humble origins… a walking target, he was, for all the bullies on the playground. And then there was his vanity. If only he had burned all the damn tapes, as William F. Buckley urged him to do in print, the nation would have been spared a lot of misery. They were his private property—he could legally have done whatever he wanted to with them. As his “legacy”, however, they were sacrosanct… and he dragged himself and the country through disgrace that the record of his years in office might be preserved.

Sad. But not deserving of the caricature which has been visited upon the man. Meanwhile, Lyndon Johnson, having left a couple of bodies in his wake (I do not speak figuratively) during his climb to power in South Texas, is remembered as the compassionate architect of the Great Society.

Try, just try, to remember that you know less than nothing about the historical personages presented to you by textbooks and movies; for the lies with which we have been programmed are worse than utter, abject ignorance.

 

On Pessimism and Misanthropy

Pessimism is the routine expectation that things will happen for the worst (pessimus being Latin for “worst”). Misanthropy literally means “hatred of mankind” in Greek (misos + anthropos)–but in common usage, its tone is somewhat milder, as in “not trustful of people”.

I have been called both of these; and while I certainly haven’t a lot of trust in people, especially in an age where young high school and college graduates are constantly encouraged to “follow their dreams” in idiotic commencement addresses (a recipe for disaster, given the irresponsibility of dreams nourished on video games and Netflix fantasies), I think “the worst” is most often averted when we’re suspicious of our neighbors. The founders of the republic thought the same thing. In my lifetime, it has been the optimists who typically open the door to disaster: the people whose expectations are so absurdly self-indulgent and rose-colored that cynical manipulators run circles around them and create a hell on earth. Then, when the “snowflakes” finally wake up and realize that they’ve been played, they become as naïve in their mistrust as they were formerly in their gullibility. They tend to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong at the doorstep of a certain designated group of villains, in a romantic kind of Manichaeism—good guy versus bad guy—rather than growing up and recognizing that all people have at least latent corruption nestled somewhere within them.

The trouble with optimism is that it can leave those whom it burns stupidly pessimistic. And on their way to getting badly burned, the naïve can get innocent people killed. I won’t repeat my remarks of a few weeks ago about Pope Francis.

Let me toss out just a couple of examples that sailed past my bow this week in illustration of why I don’t feel just all peachy soft and fuzzy about human civilization’s future.

One case stares at me from my Kindle almost every time I fire it up. The murder mystery seems to be to our casual reading public what oats are to a horse. Now, my mother loved mystery novels, and I think most of us enjoy a good crime drama on occasion. I had to give up watching Joe Kenda, however, because at some point I just couldn’t take any more young single moms letting strangers they’d picked up at the bar into their lives and winding up in a dumpster. Real murder, you see, is anything but glamorous. It’s the most squalid crime imaginable. The motive is generally some mix of lust, greed, egotism, and stupidity—with a very strong dose of the last: murderers are almost never evil geniuses. The murder itself is usually a brutal act of superior physical strength asserting itself over a victim screaming piteously, and pointlessly, for mercy. Even the higher predators in the animal food chain show more heart than the average murderer.

Yet nowadays, even as we create safe spaces and trigger alerts to coddle our epidermis-free sensitivity, we willingly accept murder into our amusements as an integral part of escapist fantasy. It’s the sanitization of murder in the pulp romance that gripes me—the degradation of mass taste that is implied in that makeover of human depravity. Joe Kenda’s tales were real enough to leave me mildly nauseated after a while: Joe Kindle keeps insulting my intelligence with teases about the latest “humorous, sexy murder mystery”.

One more quick example: I was looking up the Romanian word for “bull” because I know almost no Romanian whatever, and I needed to make a linguistic point about the modern languages descended from Latin. I’m not kidding you: the first full page of a dozen entries that popped up on my computer screen when I Googled my question offered Romanian street parlance for “bullsh*t”. Seems that we have all forgotten about the male bovine with a bellowing voice and what Jack Falstaff called a “pizzle”. How did we come to the point where coprologisms have more currency among us than basic words for basic realities? What does that say about us?

So, no, I’m not real happy with things. It’s because I can still generate the energy to be upset that the notion of effective action continues to mean something to me. Would we be better off just smiling every time our decadent culture serves us up a dish of “bull” when we ask for bread?

Except for People

Just got in from checking on my garden. The sweet potatoes are starting to send their leave up out of the ground—it happens literally over night. My bell peppers are doing much better now that I’ve transplanted them from the raised, boxed garden with its rich soil into more sandy terrain; they just didn’t take to the high-rent district! My goji bush is exploding; an odd little tree that I think (and hope) has sprung from a jujube seed continues to thrive; and the ever-screwball butternut squash have actually volunteered this spring (after I had given up on them after so many years of wasted time) and are producing plump gourds that, by all lessons of the past, just shouldn’t be there!

One can usually make peace with Nature. If things aren’t growing, there’s a reason, and one may be able to figure it out with a lot of patience—though it would have been even better to have preserved some of that ancestral wisdom which we’ve trashed along with Grandma’s sewing machine. Many times, I have the thought that a large part of our postmodern malaise is owed to our having ruptured our bonds with the soil and the seasons. Life and death, health and sickness, the stages leading to maturity, the rain that must fall so that the sun may give further life… even the electricity released by violent thunderstorms, I suspect, must be balancing out something in the atmosphere that would prove toxic if the weather were forced to be “peaceful”.

Yet all I hear and see in the human world is irksome whining about natural limitation (e.g., our paltry two genders), arrogant rejecting of cycle in favor of strict linear progression (e.g., our looming immortality as human/robot hybrids), and tasteless self-insulating in childish fantasies (e.g., the newly released Wonder Woman—and should she have hair under her arms, or not?). Plants can talk to you through how they look: my bell peppers told me that they preferred the sand when I saw them putting out new green leaves. Their language always makes sense. It’s about sun, and water, and survival, and supplying the next generation. People, in contrast, just don’t make any sense at all to me any more. Their audible language is much easier to assemble—but its message, the combined product of its words, is gibberish.

As I was walking back inside, I had the kind of thought that isn’t typical of me these days—and it came to me so powerfully that I was actually saying it out loud: “God, the world is beautiful… except for people. Except for people.” Yeah, that last part is typical “me”, I suppose, as I’ve now become; but I sometimes forget how Edenic life on this planet can be if you can just escape the clamoring, yammering apes in clothes. The alternative is well worth seeking out.

 

Manners vs. Measures

I’ll be consumed by other chores over the weekend, so forgive me for making this a long entry.  Nevertheless, it represents just a few notes on what could well be a book. (My specific reasons for having such a spate of thoughts on this subject are substantial but also pretty subjective, and so not relevant.)

Manners are, etymologically speaking, mere arbitrary measures of behavior. If the Hoolahoop tribe blows a whistle through curled fingers while hopping on the left leg whenever one member greets another, then hopping on the right leg or failing to produce a whistle might be styled a gross breach of etiquette. Yet few instances of mannerliness are thus divorced from any sort of moral value in modern society. Most courteous behavior is also generous, charitable, protective, or otherwise beneficial to its recipients. In the same way, the Latin and Greek words mos and ethos have come to signify right conduct, not simply habitual conduct, even though these words both mean “habit” in their original tongue.

Consider some examples of mannerly behavior:

Physical Assistance: holding the door open for someone carrying a heavy load or impaired in some other way is basic courtesy. Even keeping a pneumatic door ajar so that the person right behind you doesn’t have to fight against its being sucked back in shows real consideration that costs little effort. Now, feminists over the past few decades have started to object to the opened door’s implication that they are weak and need male assistance; and as an aging man whose gray hairs occasionally attract similar homage, I can understand feminist irritation better than I once did. In such cases, however, I think one must be mannerly enough to respect the doer’s intent: accepting the “annoying courtesy” without complaint is itself an act of courtesy.

Honorary Observances: Yielding to the venerable graybeard is, in effect, an example of saluting someone for having navigated life’s shoals for several decades. Likewise, we allow our guests to be seated first if we host a dinner, and the speaker or honoree at a banquet is given the best seat at the highest table and served first. None of this implies weakness and need on the recipient’s part: it’s all aimed at giving a little bow, so to speak, before a person who deserves recognition.

Anticipatory Behavior: You remove a large hat in a crowded arena because you anticipate that it might obscure the view of someone behind you. Likewise, you shower after profuse sweating before attending a formal public event, you seek to contain unruly hair that may shed, and you cover up body parts not particularly pleasant to look at. This last, of course, is often a somewhat arbitrary measure of taste. In many cultures, a woman’s baring her breast to feed an infant is a routine and unprovocative sight; in ours, it draws stares and makes men, especially, uncomfortable (not so much because they object as because they feel themselves a little too eager to forego objection). Asking permission of one’s neighbors before lighting up a cigarette or a pipe also shows respect for the comfort of others.

Hygienic Consideration: Obviously, covering one’s face when coughing or sneezing shows a regard for others that might conceivably be required by law in situations where deadly flu is circulating. Even in less toxic circumstances, nobody wants to share your germs.

Traditional Observances: Finally we arrive at the kind of behavior which has no ethical component whatever in the more sophisticated sense. Here belongs the greeting of the Hoolahoop tribe. Practices of this order in our society include wearing a coat and tie or formal dress on the “right” occasion, putting the proper silverware on the proper side of the plate, using said silverware for the proper dish, or uttering the vapid “doing quite well” when someone asks after you as a splitting migraine explodes in your head. These acts are entirely “measure” rather than “manner”: they determine whether you are a tribal insider or a barbarian outsider. (I might comment further on how religious practices sometimes Pharisaically elicit these acts rather than others of true moral content—burnt offerings rather than deeds of mercy; but that would draw my entry out into a treatise).

Sensitive Gestures: I have deliberately put the ethically subtle after the ethically null to create a clear contrast. One abstains from cracking crude jokes in mixed company, from laughing when the mood is grave, from conversing about certain subjects when they are implicated in a present party’s loss or distress, and so forth. It’s almost impossible to teach real sensitivity, which is probably why these lapses of etiquette are the most common. Since a sensitive act requires that one divine another’s state of mind and soul, a kind of talent or special gift is involved.

Observation 1: As with the case of the door-opener who means no harm, the person who innocently commits an insensitive act should not be reproached, for the reproach itself would be rude. We cannot require that other people be able to read our minds.

Observation 2: Building on the previous point, we should recognize that sensitivity and tradition often collide in implicit (or explicit) contradiction. A person may easily violate an arcane social taboo. In that case, sensitivity would require that a truly mannerly onlooker seek to help the offender recover from his gaffe (e.g., as when a man removes his tie upon seeing that a younger, less tutored man has appeared at a function in an open shirt: this might also be style chivalry).

General Observation: When manners are mere measures, they exclude outsiders from the group and thus gravitate against the accomplishment of moral purposes, inasmuch as the bedrock truth of moral behavior is that we are all human brothers and sisters in spite of superficial differences.

Concluding Comment: If you write to me via email and I, despite many duties and preoccupations (and also an ongoing struggle to keep computers from damaging my eyes and wrists), dash a response back to you lest you feel ignored, please do not denounce me as rude if I forget to append a “Sincerely Yours”, etc. Once you’ve treated me that way, I’ll have nothing more to do with you, for you will have just slapped my face.