How Many Millions of Lives Could the “Purists” Cost Us?

I used to be a Pat Buchanan fan. His willingness to question received orthodoxy and to advance conclusions that made sense, even though they set everyone on edge, impressed me. As wicked as Hitler surely was, how could his tally of carnage be said to rival Stalin’s or Mao’s? Were the tens of millions of additional victims claimed by the latter two to be excused because communists always “have their hearts in the right place”? And in any case (another Buchanan proposition), why could we not have left Hitler and Stalin to duke it out rather than so quickly and decisively siding with Papa Joe? Was Churchill really so admirable for selling out Eastern Europe at Yalta in his monomaniacal loathing of Hitler? (Stalin, he would explain in Chamberlainesque terms, had to be “appeased”.)

Where Pat and I suffered a definitive parting of the ways was over his “demography is destiny” comments. The notion that our genetic material determines the kind of citizens and neighbors we will be flies in the face of American idealism, Christian ethics, and indeed any operative concept of human free will. In an age when the word is so grossly abused as to be practically senseless, this notion is genuinely racist: it renders us prisoners of our DNA.

Yet I remain willing to accept Buchanan’s testimony about certain historical events in which he played a part or had a ring-side seat. In a column about a month ago, he detailed how Nixon’s preoccupation with the Watergate scandal so weakened America’s hand internationally that the Viet Cong recovered their flagging spirits and eventually (under Ford) forced our disorderly retreat. There followed such slaughter of innocents as no Westerner can imagine… ah, but Tricky Dick the Tyrant had been deposed, and journalists and the political Left generally were in such a celebratory mood that, if “high fives” had existed in the early Seventies, ER’s would have overflowed with sprained wrists.

Hundreds of thousands of people were butchered… but the American intelligentsia had bagged its “tyrant”!

Now we are witnessing both Russia and North Korea ramp up tensions as our crusading, utopian Fourth Estate again seeks to topple a “tyrant” by whatever means possible, ignoring real news while sensationalizing one nugatory gaffe or out-of-context utterance after another. We may be plunged into World War III—the inhabitants of Seoul may be obliterated and Japan may grow so soaked in nuclear fallout that Hiroshima will look like a stubbed toe; but the important thing is to “get Trump” at all costs, regardless of how much this may incite a genocidal psychopath like Kim Jong Un.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump and am not a member of his marching band… but there comes a point when the greater good demands a closing of the ranks. If the slavering hounds chasing after that thin but expensive red brush get their trophy only as radioactive ruins glow in the distance, I hope they will live to realize that their obsession has spoiled the planet a helluva lot more than climate change on steroids could have done.

 

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.

 

Why I Cannot Be Catholic (In a Nutshell)

I had another topic on my mind… but, after hearing a remark made on Greg Gutfeld’s show last night, I lost my original train of thought. This is more important to me.

Gutfeld had assembled three representatives of major world faiths on his cozy stage: a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and an Islamic imam. The segment was more shtick than discussion—more SNL than Firing Line. (Actually, I recall now that my original intent was to explain why I just can’t adapt myself to “tweeting”—the electronic trail of splattered bodily fluids left after careless collisions. The Gutfeld Show is to William F. Buckley what Twitter is to The Critique of Pure Reason.) In a dangerously close approach to seriousness, Gutfeld dared to inquire of the priest if Pope Francis were… um, maybe just a shade… um, naïve. The prelate (whose name I cannot recover from the Internet, for some odd reason) responded, “Well, what’s so bad about that? What’s wrong with being a little naïve? Would you rather he be bitter and cynical? Isn’t it a good thing to have a world spiritual leader who believes in the possibility of peace?”

I paraphrase, but the response was of this nature. I wanted to tear my hair out.

No, Father! It’s not a good thing! Naiveté is not productive or benign! It’s unbecoming in an older man of any station in life; but in an international leader—and especially a spiritual leader—it is grotesque and potentially lethal on a massive scale. Gandhi was with some justice faulted in certain quarters for staging “peaceful” demonstrations in places and at moments when he ought to have known that a match would ignite the whole ammunition dump. Fools who naively “believe in peace” have a pronounced tendency to draw us into war. They underestimate the duplicity of the Machiavellian tyrants with whom they negotiate. They exhort their followers to overlook alarming signs of imminent hostility in deference to “keeping the faith”. They may even end up offering themselves (and a host of others) to the slaughterhouse in a conviction that their martyrdom will blaze future trails to conflict resolution.

At some point, such reckless gambling with innocent lives and insouciance to the dark side of human nature becomes a squalid ego trip. “Sure, you have your martyrdom, Holy Father. Great. I wish I had my two sons back that were killed in the invasion you declined to notice as it massed on our borders.” I can imagine many a believing Catholic having some such thought at key moments throughout history.

I almost became a Catholic myself in my youth. I worked at two different Catholic schools (one Jesuit and one Benedictine). I was disturbed at how the bad actors on campus were always able to shift into confessional mode and convince a priest that they were just little lost lambs… but I was naïve myself at the time, and I would psychically smack the back of my hand for having bad thoughts.

What really bothers me about the Gutfeld interview is not the Pope’s personal naiveté, but its public and energetic defense by a prominent member of his clergy. The Catholic equation of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses with spiritual elevation is a potential life-ruiner. How does it differ, may I ask, from lighting up a joint or having a lobotomy? Or permitting a chip to be inserted into one’s brain with CorrectThink Update 3.4? For that matter, as we approach a world where lasting peace might really come to pass—because we will all be computer hybrids, and our programming will preclude violent behavior (as defined by the programmer)—how will the Catholic braintrust resist that Nirvana? For doesn’t it offer everything that the rose-tinted glasses foresaw?

The first words out of the mouth of Sophocles’ Teiresias when he appears on stage are, “What a frightful thing is thinking, when thoughts are of no profit!” And Oedipus does indeed pay a fearful price for his pursuit of truth… but Sophocles eventually celebrates him as a hero, I believe, precisely because he chooses the anguishing misery of full truth over the flattering delusions of ignorance. Doesn’t God demand such dedication to truth of us?

Final word: yes, I know that the Protestant denominations have mucked up their glasses and decided to call the color “rose” in much the same way as has Catholicism. There’s nothing much to separate them any more. The name of the only real church is in your heart, not in your checkbook.

Denver, Where Pygmies Play on a Sleeping Giant

Sorry, but  I don’t like Denver.  Don’t think I ever will.  I just attended my son’s graduation from a college there, and… and, as on every previous visit, I spent my stay feeling as though I were being watched–as though a huge hand were about to descend upon me from the sky, like a giant’s absent-mindedly swatting a gnat.  The Rockies themselves are not so very near as all that–less near than the Franklin Mountains to El Paso; but they throw down foul weather at all hours of the day with practically no warning.  One minute, it’s sun and big blue sky; then I strangely get that sense of being watched or stalked, I look over my shoulder, a huge black cloud comes spiraling in over my head, and lightning starts to flicker.

I’m never comfortable in places where the weather has no rhythm, but strikes like a rattler from behind a rock.  On Monday of this past week, we were about to take a hike when a hailstorm trapped us in the car for half an hour (as blue sky mocked us in the distance).

Of course, the city is full of rich Yankee-doodles in search of a scenic retirement spot and yuppie leftists seeking refuge from the political debacle they’ve created on the West Coast.  Same story as Austin, Santa Fe, and Phoenix.  As Tacitus would say, they make a desert and call it peace: or, to be precise, they descend upon a sublime natural setting, proceed to litter it with the unsightly sprawl ignited by their dollars, and then busy themselves with trying to legislate the squalor out of existence.  Such insane hubris–such arrogant self-absorption!  It’s the kind of mindset that draws thousands and thousands of unemployed, low-skilled migrants into a metropolis locally declared to be a “sanctuary city”, then piously denounces all the sudden car traffic and trashy curbside development.

The nouveau elite bring no sense of self-awareness or of practicality to anything they do.  They just spend their wad on nice digs, then encumber the rest of the community with contradictory regulations.  All the comforts of living the life of the haute bourgeoisie, all the feel-good sanctimony of forcing others to live by “higher standards”… this class of person makes me as nervous as unpredictable weather.

My wife wanted me to see the outdoor amphitheater at Red Rocks.  I saw it, all right.  I saw yuppified hippies walking their precious canines and buying tickets for the next concert, hiking and peddling for their all-important health (in expensive gear) on a Monday morning when normal people have to work, holding hands or locked in tighter embrace if paired as a single sex (heterosexuals almost never put on such public displays)… and I also saw mammoth stacks of brittle sandstone hurled cockeyed out of the earth by quakes, their inevitable destiny written at their base in the form of gargantuan fallen boulders.  If one of those walls should give way during a performance…

Human beings should leave places like this alone.  Instead, they swarm them to display some exhibitionist “love of nature”.  They run all over them like Lilliputians showing their mightiness on Gulliver’s sleeping face–or, in this case, advertising their superior sensitivity to the “green lifestyle”.  And, in both cases, an incredible small-mindedness peeks through.

Leave the mountain gods alone!

One Small Step for Incoherence, One Giant Leap for Anarchy

I used to think that I would eventually get used to student papers littered with sentences like. “Each patient knows their chances are not good,” and, “An author at that time would be rejected if they had no sponsors.” Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.

The third-person plural pronoun referring to a singular antecedent has become a fixture in our postmodern babble. Too bad. Sometimes the result is insolubly confusing. “The applicant who convinces the judges of their argument’s vulnerability from either direction will become a finalist”; “the patient whose doctors understand that they need more sleep is in good hands”; “a coach whose players perform beyond their expectations is very lucky.”

Why must we put up with this skull-mush purée? For it seems that we must; not only do you and I commit such agreement errors all the time in conversation (where misunderstanding can be quickly corrected), but the arbiters in university English departments are increasingly decreeing that third-person agreement gaffes are correct—not tolerable, but the only way to go. One ambitious termigant in my own department has refused to address me civilly in the two years since I challenged her championing of the singular “they” in a public email. I hadn’t realized that the issue was so sensitive. Guess I’m lucky that I didn’t get slapped with a sexual harassment suit.

And that’s what it’s all about, you know. Maupassant once quipped that all stories are about either sex or death, and this one is about both. Our language must die so that sexually specific pronouns may never again be spoken. If the student or patient in our sentence is designated a “he”, then we have just committed a sexist crime; and if we choose “she” to privilege the female, the new god is still not propitiated. In fact, we may have made our situation worse, for our willingness to shift feminine in all generic cases could be misread as a gesture arising from that hotbed of quintessential sexism, chivalry. (Naturally, “she or he” runs into the same quagmire if we try to redeem the offensive order of “he or she”).

Equal time for the genders is no longer what’s at stake. The new objective is the utter annihilation of genders.

I could go on and on about what psychological perversion lies at the heart of such linguistic anarchy… but really, what lies at the heart of anarchy in any of its expressions? “Evil, be thou my good!” cries Satan in the masterpiece of that arch-sexist poet, John Milton. The anarchist desires to see the world helter-skelter. Up must go down, and in must go out. Creation must be undone to the point that no clue of its original design remains. The people who push such counter-programmatic programs have some kind of invincible grudge against life. Since they cannot remake it to be just the way they would have liked, they will satisfy themselves (so they think—for these people are never satisfied) with stealing the sense of life from everybody else. At least they will have accomplished something, merely by doing that. They will have forced everyone to share their single guiding insight as they shout from atop an infernal dunghill, “None of it means sh*t! Nothing! None of it!”

You think this is too far a reach from a single solecism? After all, as the academic advocates of illogic never tire of saying on this issue, Shakespeare also used “theys” with singular antecedents once or twice (as if the Shakespearean corpus were the meticulous relic of a single intelligence writing under minimal pressure and entrusting his work to the capable hands of infallible redactors). Well, you probably don’t watch this sort of degeneration happening every day from a dozen directions, as I do. A brick here, a brick there…. The edifice isn’t going to blow up: that’s not the plan. It’s going to collapse into rubble one fine day when one brick too many is removed from a critical wall.

That day, by the way, may already have arrived.

More on Attention-Deficit Narcissism: Clemson’s Racist Anti-Racism

I keep running across exhibitionist behaviors that model what I’ve called Attention-Deficit Narcissism. The sufferer of ADN is so consumed with his own image that the rest of the world might as well not exist–or it only exists, we might say, to the extent that he can project himself into it, always in the very favorable light of a merciful, compassionate, enlightened person or the very poignant light of a cruelly martyred victim. Yet our wretch has such a shifting, sketchy sense of self (probably thanks in large part to social media) that he must be forever projecting new images on top of old ones, often without any regard whatever for the coherence of the whole package. Such walking insanity renders the afflicted wholly inept as students, writers, scholars, leaders, lovers, or friends. They are emotional powderkegs that ignite without rhyme or reason.

The chase after the golden mantle of cultural diversity, of which I wrote last time, has turned the Western world upside-down. Without the slightest real understanding of the group which they effusively (and briefly) patronize, the ADN-delirious rush in like the crazed followers of Dionysus, sporting sombreros or turbans or headdresses, and eat chili peppers or dolmades or toasted locusts for fifteen minutes. They create an image and move on. The elite strata of society, especially, teem with restless waifs who are thus inebriated, both because the pampered class is most immersed in technology’s toxic artifice and because it is most insulated from the real-life consequences of misjudging a particularly dangerous group (and, one might hazard, because its lives of fantasy are the most meaningless among our species).

I can’t think of any other way to explain how the elite brain trust at Clemson University could agree upon publishing a horribly, despicably, and genuinely racist announcement that students of African descent may not be penalized for showing up late to class. Supposedly, punctuality nestles in Caucasian DNA, but not in theirs. Did the pompous idiots who issued this decree stop to reflect upon the centuries of racial stereotyping that projected black people to be just such helplessly, hopelessly tardy dolts? Did they trouble themselves, for instance, to ponder the character of Lightnin’ on the old Amos ’n Andy TV show (originally created for radio)? Shuffling along and pushing his janitorial mop none too urgently, the brim of his baseball cap flipped up in the opposite of a “bear down” position, this unambitious young man couldn’t deliver the simplest message to Andy or the Kingfish without drawling a single sentence into half a minute, usually forgetting its beginning by the time he reached its end.

If you’re black, this is the kind of “consideration” you get at Clemson. I wonder if any student of African genes has come to a sufficient boil to wave aside all the freebies the ADN crowd wants to lavish upon him theatrically… and to file a lawsuit?

The Ruling Elite Take Another Tiny Step into the Sporting World

The trend is so new that I consumed fifteen minutes in finding a single photo to illustrate it. Just this spring, Major League Baseball has decided to start throwing accents liberally over Spanish names, both on the backs of uniforms and on televised graphics.

At first I thought that the move was “hypertrophic”–that MLB’s politically correct elite wanted so much to show sensitivity to diverse cultures that accents were ordered to appear where they had no grammatical business. Then I discovered that my Spanish isn’t quite as reliable on this score as I’d thought. The general rule is that the penultimate syllable of a word tends to be stressed, and that an accent appears whenever that tendency is violated. Beltrán goes against the tendency: Vargas does not. Ramos and Navarro are good to go as they stand: Céspedes and Rincón require an accentual alert. Yet a little research informed me that proper names seem to involve an unusual number of anomalous cases. Why does Márquez have an accent–or González, or Martínez? I don’t know… but, okay, I guess the MLB did its homework for a change.

Then again, upon still further thought, my old misgivings returned to me. Yeah, so all of those names ought to have accents in their original tongue… but who is going to maul the handle of someone named Gonzalez or Martinez? Where do we see a similar concern over the butchery of Italian names with the -ng or -gl consonantal clusters? The pronunciation is “Tony Co-nil-YER-o”, you dopes, not “Co-nig-lee-ER-o”! (And when the lovely Jen Carfagno of the Weather Channel pronounces her surname “Car-FAG-no”, I want to hide in a hole and cover my ears. So, Jen… do you order la-SAG-na at a restaurant?)

What about Gaelic names? Shouldn’t a guy named Toole demand Tuathal on the back of his jersey? Can a guy named Rowe insist upon Ruadh? There’s a lot more than a mere accent missing from these!

“Accent-mania” reveals the political elite (and, believe me, that elite is very much ensconced at ESPN and among owners of professional sports teams) wanting to put its support of cultural diversity on display for all the world to see; and, as usual–as always–that support reeks of condescension. Only select minorities are eligible for the big-brotherly arm around the shoulder, as if the Enlightened Ones were saying, “There, there, now, you lovable but ignorant Latinos. We know that you’re having a lot of trouble with English, and we don’t think you should even have to learn it. See? We’re going to require that the accents be kept over your names–your nombres. Or, wait… is that the word for ‘number’? Whatever. We just want you to know that we have your back. Ha-ha-ha! Your back–get it? Un hoko bueno, no? Musgrave, go look up the word for ‘joke’.”

The children of Hispanic immigrants that appear in my classes have often been given Christian names like “Ashley” and “Melanie”, even though there are a million really beautiful Spanish names. Their parents want them to assimilate. Our political-economic elite don’t care if the masses they invite to the U.S. ever assimilate or not; in fact, they would prefer the negative, since disoriented and needy masses always opt for a greater presence of Big Brother in their lives. Now, patrón is a good example of a word whose final syllable is stressed. You should get to know that one. It names a kind of person who’s starting to play a really prominent role in all our lives.