Monday, March 31, 2008

Pull down your skirt, Iqra'i, your Freudian slip is showing.

Monday, cigarette #2

Nicola's post on patriarchy keeps the spoonful of sugar and forgets the medicine: seems like this kind of feminism only actually differs in the world of theory, not of policy, yes? Still down with paid family leave, non-discrimination, access to contraception and all those good things?

Generally, yes.

Nicki seems to think that nice, well-behaved gender roles only limit women's desires whereas bad ones place limits on their "ambitions, rights, and very souls." Unfortunately, the average citizen of Postmodern, U.S.A. can't tell the difference — Every attack on my desires is an attack on my identity, etc. — so this distinction is rhetorically problematic.

Which is not to say the substance isn't problematic, too. Where is it written that gender roles shouldn't be allowed to change our "very souls?" It's better that they should; otherwise they're just masks. The extent to which a society's gender roles are trending away from "constraining" and toward "suffocating" is, of course, something to keep a weather eye on, but once we've picked out a catalogue of acceptable gender roles we ought to give them some teeth. (As for what picking out a catalogue of acceptable gender roles should look like, it's a tall order, but I imagine it has a lot to do with studying the history of femininity.* If only one were actually able to major in That, rather than in An Upside-Down and Self-Undermining Version of That...)

In policy (so Noah doesn't have to ask), this looks like "Eliminating employment discrimination allows women to be exceptions, but paid family leave encourages them to do so, so if we have the vaguest gut instinct that our vision for a mother's relationship to her young children is incompatible with a full-time job, then we should forget about the latter." On a smaller scale, this looks like something Rainer Werner Fassbinder said: "I find women more interesting. They don't interest me just because they're oppressed — it's not that simple. The societal conflicts in women are more interesting because on the one hand women are oppressed, but in my opinion they also provoke this oppression as a result of their position in society, and in turn use it as a terror tactic."

*This book is a fun way to start, as is this one.

Smoke Break Over

Monday, cigarette #1

I'm back! More precisely, my laptop is back after a week at the tech support spas, and its recovery seems complete.

Things to expect in the coming week:
Who's a wittier gay playwright, Noel Coward or Mart Crowley?

More on campus conservatism: Should it feel illegal? Do we have to reject the cult of youth completely, or can we pull off spirit-of-'68-in-tweed?

How can Nicola make a Sigmund Freud/Ginger Rogers joke and still be so mistaken? How can Fassbinder be so loathsome and so right?

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: It's not about the gun. It's about the girl.

Watching the
New York Times write about Ivy League abstinence activists: And you thought that the smart set had given up on the concept of "primitive" societies.
In the meantime, Elizabeth M. Whelan doesn't think the Catholic Church is very consistent, and I don't think Elizabeth Whelan is very right. Her hatchet-whack does make one point worth making, though: "pro-life" rhetoric has its perks and bugs, but it's not much help when the enemy is the cult of health and not the culture of death.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oakeshott Samizdat

Tuesday, cigarette #2

A reader calls my dream of a right-wing urban subculture comparable to gay urban subculture romanticized and idealistic: "Having some secret gnosis boosts your self-esteem, but there's no reason to go underground for the sake of going underground!"

I'm not sure whether this is a rebuttal or an excuse, but my own experience of right-wing culture has been colored by the sense that conservatism at Yale is a kind of underground. I remember being a freshman and having an older member of the Party of the Right press a copy of After Virtue into my hands, look me in the eye and say, "This will help you." Before the spate of reissues we only had one copy of Conscience of a Conservative between us, and it got passed around until it fell apart. There was a rivalry between those Christians who lent C. S. Lewis books to prospective converts and the faction that preferred G. K. Chesterton. "Lewis is an intellectual lightweight!" "Chesterton's too-clever-by-half!" The book-swapping could get nasty.

The medium matters — there's a difference between reading your friend's annotated copy of The Quest for Community and reading it for CSTD 320: What is Conservatism?. If you're designing an undergraduate community, playing off the "underground" genre is as likely to work really well as to backfire.

Beyond Roy Cohn: The Queer-Conservative Alliance

Tuesday, cigarette #1

From Gay Metropolis: A Landmark History of Gay Life in America:
Fifty years laters, Reynolds was nostalgic for the understatement of the thirties and forties. "People didn't shove it down your throat," he remembered. "When I see two boys walking down the street holding hands, it doesn't offend me; I don't care if they walk around naked. But liberation carried to such an extent to where there's no law at all, I don't see how you can get the full enjoyment of it. It seems to me that there are no rules today at all. You can pretty much do what you want. Thank god there are a few people who have a little sense of manners and decency. But, by and large, people are sleeping together when they're fifteen and sixteen. I mean, that was unheard of in my day. If you had a girl who spent the night, you practically put a maid in the same room with her. I just wonder whether the kind of fun we had would be gone if you're just permitted to do anything you want to."
From the same chapter:
"I think it was a little bit like that thing Mrs. Patrick Campbell said: 'My dear, I don't care what people do as long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses.' I think a lot of people in New York felt that way about their homosexual friends. I think that meant: don't be a roaring faggot and don't be a roaring bul dyke because that's offensive. Not because of the direction of the sex drive, but because it's not subtle."
Further thoughts on Gay Metropolis in the context of urbanism (which is, apparently, all the rage) may be forthcoming: Gay Metropolis, like Gay New York, paints a detailed picture of how gay subcultures colonize urban areas, i.e. a gay man walking into a strange city can find the cruising spot within a few hours, if he knows how to follow the signs. It's strange to say that family-values conservatives should be more like gay cruisers, but being able to use symbolic clues to navigate urban landscapes (like some kind of postmodern Natty Bumppo!) is a good club for your movement to have in its bag.

I'm not sure what's left for a conservative to say about gay urbanism except "Isn't it awesome how groups can make urban spaces their own?", but if I can visualize what it would mean for urban conservatives to take a page from the gay playbook, I'd be Living the Dream. Imagine standing in the middle of the New Haven Green, seeing a guy in tweed walk by, and knowing that if you followed him you'd find the conservative dive bar where everybody goes to talk about Hayek...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

Sunday, cigarette #1

My favorite Easter memory, from last year: walking home around 2:30 in the morning and running into two of my old housemate's friends who I didn't really know but who I saw at Mass from time to time. It seemed like they'd had a few.

"Hey, you're Claire's roommate, right?"

"Yeah. Hey."

"Hey. Happy Easter!"

"He is risen!"

To which they respond: "Fuck yeah, He is risen!"

Have a happy Easter. He is risen indeed.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

AIDS ministry; you're doing it wrong.

Saturday, cigarette #3

It turns out that Jean, who I had hoped would write the second most interesting senior essay in the Yale Religious Studies department's class of 2008, has surpassed all expectations and written something far more interesting than mine.

He spent the fall semester interviewing gay patients at an AIDS hospice about their religious beliefs. (He limited it to gay patients because he figured their religious beliefs would be more complicated than those of someone who caught HIV from a needle or through prostitution. AIDS is, in a very literal sense, punishment for the sins of addiction and prostitution, but whether the same can be said for the sin of homosexuality is less obvious.) By the spring, he was sitting on pages and pages of interviews and no thesis.

The angle he ultimately picked was: The Catholic and Protestant churches are dropping the ball on AIDS ministry, and it's clear that there are more than enough AIDS patients to warrant serious and specific attention, which leaves the churches with three options: minister to gay AIDS patients while maintaining a hard line on the sinfulness of homosexuality; minister to gay AIDS patients and make an endorsement of homosexuality part of that ministry; or minister to gay AIDS patients while remaining agnostic on the question of whether homosexuality is moral or not. I've only seen the preliminary data, but it's clear that his main subjects have all come to their own definite conclusions on whether or not homosexuality is moral, so it's possible that the third option simply won't work. I hope to look over a final copy when he's done with it and will, with his permission, post about it, but I was just too jazzed about the whole idea to keep it to myself.

"You ain't done nothin' if you ain't been called a Red!"

Saturday, cigarette #2

On last word on the cultural contributions of organized labor:

Housemate Will, who has traveled extensively in far-off lands, complains that Americans have no national songs. There's "God Bless America" and the national anthem, and everybody knows the words to pop songs like "867-5309/Jenny," but none of those are much good when you're on a train with a bunch of Americans you've never met and the group of Russians at the other end of the car pulls out a guitar and starts a Russian sing-a-long.

Blues songs are, for the most part, made for one voice, and we don't have very many drinking songs, so union folk music is one of the most group-singable canons America's got: "Which Side are You On," ""There is Power in a Union," "Sixteen Tons," etc.

Throw in Dust Bowl songs ("Do Re Mi," "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?"), round it out with some gospel ("Jesus on the Mainline," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"), and you've either got a sing-a-long or a Ry Cooder album.

(As a parenthetical, I'm curious where people learn folk songs these days. I went to Tuesday night folksing when I was learning to play the guitar, which is how I know them, but why does a random non-Southern Yalie know the words to "King of the Road" and "Hobo's Lullaby?" Is it parents? Sunday school? What?)

"You work. They don't. That's all you got to know about the enemy."

Saturday, cigarette #1
"The coal company don't want this union. The state government don't want it, the federal government don't want it, and they're all of 'em waitin' for an excuse to come down and crush us to nothing. We got to pick away at this situation slow and careful, we got to organize and build support, we got to work together till they can't get their coal out of the ground without us 'cause we're a union! 'Cause we're the workers, damnit, and we take care of each other!"
Don't be fooled by my support for Thatcherite labor reforms! I really am pro-union! Just also pro-strike ballots and anti-closed/union shops!

Then again, everything I know about unions I learned from Matewan (good clip here, some rough language), in which John Sayles makes the obvious point that a union that lives by the sword will die by the sword and the less obvious point that making a devil's bargain for government support is, at the end of the day, just as bad. So maybe that's why my support for labor is so enthusiastic yet so narrowly defined. Also why I think every union organizer should have a drawl and look like Chris Cooper.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What is he supposed to listen to, "The Times They Are a-Changin' Back?"

Friday, cigarette #3

John Harris is miffed that a Tory politician would have the unmitigated gall to dig the Smiths:
The plan was for him to have his photo taken in front of the building à la the Smiths, but the local Labour party got wind of the script, and dispatched a pack of activists to foil him. Their placards featured such slogans as "Salford Lads not Eton snobs" and "Oi Dave - Eton Toffs' club is 300 miles that way", and they would not be moved, so Cameron went home without his snap.
The nerve! I bet Cameron's even straight, too, and we all know that only gay boys and goth girls really get Morrissey.

Cameron's retort "I don't see why the left should be the only ones allowed to listen to protest songs" sounds right. If 80's anti-Thatcherite pop was mostly about rage over (in Paul Weller's words) "the whole breakdown of communities, trade unions, the working class - the dismantling of lots of things," then I don't see why a conservative politician in this decade couldn't concievably agree with that diagnosis, if not Weller's prescription. (Well, minus the trade unions part.)

Working class Toryism has always been a suspect thing — i.e. Disraeli's "We have been told that a Conservative working man cannot be Conservative because he has nothing to conserve, he has neither land nor capital; as if there were not other things in the world as precious as land and capital!" — but remember that sometimes upper- and middle-class boys with working-class sympathies turn out all right...

Oscar Wilde on the phenomenon of blogger flophouses

Friday, cigarette #2

To those who ask whether the tappity-tappity soundtrack of living with a blogger (or, worse, three bloggers) is annoying:
My dear Robbie, I assure you that the typewriting machine, when played with expression, is not more annoying than the piano when played by a sister or near relation.
"When played with expression"—whatever that may mean...

"Oh, thank you! You’ve rescued me from the most hideous of nightmares, Edward."

Friday, cigarette #1

From 'Jeeves of the Plaza':
“Always remember,” Mr. Robinson, a stout, cheery man with silvery hair, told the assembled group, “salt to the left and pepper to the right. Why?”

A moment later, he answered his question. “Because it’s ‘salt and pepper,’ ” he said. “Not pepper and salt.”
Via the Dizzies.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I said, "Pretend you've got no money," and she just laughed and said, "Oh, you're so funny!"

Thursday, cigarette #3

All the talk of class (no, being a science major is not your "class background") calls to mind the last century's greatest meditation on class differences, now available in Archie Comics form.

Better than "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates, you ask? Even better.

All joking aside, Oasis and Blur might be more fun on Friday night and Thom Yorke might be more eloquent on the inherent rootlessness of being a space alien, but far better for a pop song to make loveless sex sound like hell, capture the sweetness and seediness of adolescent sexuality, or finally give voice to the tragedy of having a friend who keeps smoking all your cigarettes again.

The Yale Scene Eats Itself: Unscripted!

Thursday, cigarette #2

David Broockman decided to beat up on tradition and the Party of the Right; unsuprisingly, a traditionalist and a member the POR have been hitting him right back in comments.

The position that started it all:
Analyses of all three experiments cite the lack of "cultural scripts" for disobeying authority. In other words, everyday people - and even, I would bet, the elite - don't speak out when they want to not simply because they're intimidated but because there's no way to perform polite or respectful disobedience in our culture.

In absence of cultural scripts to disobey and protest power structures, we observe both good and bad power structures continue unquestioned except in big narrativistic moments of change.
Maybe gender roles should be strengthened? There's really no way to have cultural dialogue on this question without the ability for one side to say "no!" And, in this society, with a script only for "make dinner, honey" and none nearly as casually acceptable for "we're equal people, and I drove the kids to soccer practice and everything else which I bet was just as grueling as your job, so you do it," the possibility for dialogue exists almost exclusively with those that hold the power or in the Ivory Tower.
Which he later refines to this:
As you and I both note, the best traditions - intellectual traditions, many religious traditions - do have such scripts. High cultural generally does. But low culture doesn't, and neither does the state.

We have no tools with which to engage in day-to-day conversations about gender roles or, as you note, fascist authority. We do have a mechanism to talk to our priests about why the Church does something the way it does.

It's not about broadly denying people cultural scripts in all areas because such scripts, it's about how to provide such scripts in areas where they are lacking.

I do think much of what the Left at least is trying to do is provide ordinary people with less personal audacity and position than you or I with the means to at least create awareness of or to protest power structures. On the already-beaten-to-death-topic of gender roles, for example, to build a world where an ordinary person can say "that's sexist" and have a real impact without being counter-normative and weird. We're still not there.
I agree with David that it's not enough to have a society where dissent is tolerated; you have to have scripted forms of dissent so that people who disagree know how to disagree out loud. But which of these sounds more likely in the America we have now: someone who says "That's sexist" being reprimanded for being too counter-cultural and radical, or someone who says "It is dumb and negligent for a woman to get drunk at a bar or frat party if she is unaware of the risks" being called a victim-blamer? David's right that counter-cultural-for-its-own-sake and reactionary-for-its-own-sake are both entirely valid attitudes under certain circumstances, but he is mistaken about which of these two "scripts" we need more of.

Also, low-culture doesn't have scripts for dissenting women? What about "Don't Come Home a-Drinking (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," "Rated X," or, Hell, "Harper Valley PTA?" If country music counts as "low culture," then I think Patsy and Loretta have got it covered.

Cigarettes and Whiskey and Ivy League Women, They'll Drive You Crazy, They'll Drive You Insane

Thursday, cigarette #1

Three defenses of cigarette smoking have appeared in the Brown Daily Herald in the last month, which must be some kind of a record. One was entirely uninteresting ("If it weren't for smokers, you wouldn't know that you're better than everyone else"), but Debbie Lehmann's suggests that the tobacco wars might be moving away from the very boring libertarian question of "Is smoking a valid expression of individual freedom?" and towards the more interesting conservative question of "If smoking is an expression of something more substantive than just my freedom to choose stuff, what might it be expressing?":
David Gumbiner '08 had never smoked a cigarette before he spent a semester in India, China and South Africa last spring. But while he was abroad, Gumbiner started to smoke bidis - small cigarettes popular in South Asia - with some participants in his program. Gumbiner said it became "part of our friendship to sit around and smoke." [...]

Gumbiner said his continued smoking after his program helped him get through the jobless summer he spent taking classes he did not enjoy.

"Smoking was contemplative for me," he said. "When we would sit around and smoke, those were times of the day when we just sat back and thought about nothing. Cigarettes helped break up my day in that regard." [...]

Christine Ronan '09, who is currently studying in Paris, wrote in an e-mail that none of her friends have picked up the habit. But she added that smoking has been "brought up as an idea a few times as something to help 'fit in better.'"

But for students like Gumbiner, smoking was more of a cultural experience than a way to fit in. Gumbiner said he actually felt guilty about smoking, as his program was a public health program focusing partly on the effects of smoking in China and the role of cigarette companies. He added that some of the students in his program looked down on his practices.

Still, Gumbiner said he did not regret the hours he spent smoking bidis with his friends.

"It was what it was," he said. "Going abroad is a lot about exploring parts of yourself you haven't looked at for a long time."
In contrast to the poetic reminiscences of smoker-philosopher Gumbiner, Ronan's depiction of smoking as simply a matter of peer-pressure sounds shallow and philistine. Well arranged, Debbie Lehmann.

The third article ('The new statism: anti-smoking hysteria') gets top prizes for demonizing both the State (capitalization in the original) and anti-traditionalists:
Those who seek smoking bans are closet statists, if not outright ones, who have somehow concluded that the State is capable of moral action, and who have decided that all of its executive power should be mobilized to extirpate culture, tradition and "unhealthy" habits. [...]

Even a casual "smoker" (I prefer not to designate certain persons as smokers and others as non-smokers, but reluctantly use the phrase in keeping with modern parlance) has probably smoked a pack of cigarettes within the last month, which translates into twenty times when individuals have felt the presence of the State and its laws enforcing personal behaviors.

When classes are over for the day, and one seeks to enjoy a drink and a smoke to take off the edge, one must avoid smoking in certain locations where laws have proscribed the former (and sometimes even the latter). When writing a piece of poetry, prose or personal correspondence, one must seek inspiration through the tobacco leaf in a location other than the traditional cafe or restaurant, for the State - yet, strangely enough, neither the writer nor usually the owner - has deemed such behavior inappropriate.

These are interesting times, particularly in the United States, where the polar extremes of rampant obesity and a lockstep fitness culture are the two camps to which one must retreat. Long gone seem to be the days of a healthy degree of moderation, determined by the individual who lives in accordance with his own version of self-discipline. Alas, it appears that the only options that leaders and laws claim that we now have are alleged risky behaviors and habits, or top-down versions of healthy living. Smoking ban advocates rest their claims on the misguided belief that health is the sole prerequisite for a high quality of life.

When will our culture again reflect the eternal truth that living encompasses more than merely life and health? Even if tobacco is so incredibly dangerous - a premise, for what it is worth, that I do not completely accept - why have we chosen to exterminate traditional behaviors in restaurants, bars, and pubs altogether, without regard for their historical and spiritual contexts.
Remember, concensus-mongers: too much emphasis on agreement leads us to obsess about things we can agree on and shortchange everything more controversial. The only thing worse than watching someone try to spin prostitution as a public health issue is . . . well, smoking outside in a January snowstorm.

However, none of the Brown pieces are a patch on the YDN's, which began with the opening line "Because I want to die."

UPDATE: That school on the Charles enters the fray. "Unlike doctors, we do not have a professional responsibility to live healthily, but, as informed citizens, we should consciously work to be healthy ourselves and to reduce the harms of second-hand smoke." Goodnight, poor Harvard!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rev. Wright and Barack Obama; Why all the cool conservatives like Spike Lee

Monday, cigarette #1

Daniel Larison predicts liberal backlash against the Rev. Wright flap:
Many Christian conservatives took criticism of The Passion as an open attack on their religion, and so overlooked anything that might give them pause about Gibson and viewed his demonisation by much of the mainstream press as a broader assault on them.

Don’t be surprised if the Christian left and progressives respond with the same siege mentality, some of which we are already seeing. What this means is that when Wright is connected to extreme statements of black liberation theology, people on the left will tend to filter out the most extreme elements and see any criticism of liberation theology as the typical response of the privileged and the majority...
To some extent, this has materialized: Ezra Klein comparing Rev. Wright to Jerry Falwell, for instance. Still, I wouldn’t expect the liberal backlash party to get much bigger, nor would I expect to see it include many Obama supporters from the college crowd. One of Obama’s biggest attractions is the perception that he stands for the post-racial America of Martin Luther King’s dream — that he is the "Tiger Woods of politics." Wright seems to prefer Malcolm X to Martin Luther King. That by itself is no crime. From the conservative point of view, it might even be a virtue. After all, which one’s Autobiography made ISI’s list of the fifty best books of the twentieth century?

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais say what the Yale political scene confirms, which is that the generation of liberals just now coming of age thinks of itself as post-race, post-gender, and post-class. To their way of thinking, these old divisions were only ever constructs of a regime we have since transcended and shouldn’t matter anymore. They’re the sort of people who say things like this:
Wright made these comments after racially discriminatory policies had been abolished- whatever the lingering realities of racism in society, they are not the official position of the US government as they were in [Frederick] Douglass’ case.
Show’s over! Nothing to see here! Racism’s all over bar the shouting!

One party in the Yale Political Union has the excellent tradition of asking everyone who runs for YPU elected office "How has your class background has shaped your political beliefs?" Occasionally, someone will answer, “It hasn’t.” As far as I know, no candidate from the Party of the Right ever has, because most POR members know as well as the Liberal Party that not caring about class when you decide whom to hire or whom to marry doesn’t make class not matter. The same goes for race.

The conservatives I tend to like best are ones who agree with leftists (as opposed to liberals, if I can abuse the two terms for this post’s purposes) that race is not something to be transcended but something to be accepted, dealt with, and occasionally celebrated. If the liberals-like-MLK/leftists-like-Malcolm-X dichotomy is too crude, this might be nearer to what I mean: conservatives reject Kwanzaa; white leftists like it; white liberals celebrate it themselves. Martin Luther King might have been pleased by the sight of a bunch of white students at Ligon Junior High lighting the ujima candle and thinking that Kwanzaa is about universal values like collectivized farming and not about anything specific to black culture at all, but Malcolm X would have been appalled at our presumption. Traditionalists and leftists might disagree on the best way for America to get past racism, but neither one is silly enough to believe, as many liberals do, that the best way to eliminate racism is to eliminate race.

As Diana Butler Bass points out, putting Reverend Wright’s remarks within the tradition of black rhetoric rather than white homiletics makes his sermons less like “God Hates Fags” and more like "The Ballot or the Bullet,” which is to say potentially defensible (by someone other than me, that is) or, at the very least, not indicative of insanity. It also reveals why the liberals who cherish post-racial fantasies will be turned off by them anyway.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lazy Sunday Throw-Away about Movies: "It's yours to right the great wrong done..."

Sunday, cigarette #4

The Housemates and I watched Citizen Kane last night, and, while I could use that as an excuse to write a mash note to yellow journalism, I think my views on that are pretty clear. (Yale Political Union plug: When Katrina vanden Heuvel comes to the YPU, the debate will probably be “Resolved: The press should be partisan.” Your hats, hang on to them.)

Grand Unified Theories of the Press aside, the next time CK’s stock gets reevaluated I’d like to go on the record against giving it top prize, mostly because I have a hard time imagining the kind of person whose life would be changed by watching Citizen Kane. It makes a relatively uncontroversial point aimed at American megalomaniacs, a pretty narrow audience, and it’s fun to look at without being particularly fun to watch. I can say with confidence that all of the jokes are good because there are only three of them.

Three of the five movies I've seen this month would make excellent replacements. (The two that don't make the cut are Time Bandits, which is disqualified for, in Pip's words, "being very 80's, involving time travel, and starring several midgets, because a movie can only get away with two of those things at once," and No Country for Old Men.)

Come Back Little Sheba (1952):
An old, loveless couple takes in a young female boarder that who is a temptation for the husband and a reminder to both husband and wife of the child they could never have. It manages to argue Stay With Your Wife without resorting either to Just Because It's Your Duty or to You Really Are Just As In Love As You Used to Be You Just Don't Know It. I'd hate to have to explain exactly how it does so to someone who'd never seen it, but I think it's something like this: "You two are out of love, but that just means you've transitioned from middle-aged marriage to old people marriage, which is a transition in the same way that blushing honeymooners to middle-aged couple is a transition. If you take the time to explore the genre of marriage you are now performing, you will find that it has its own emotional and spiritual benefits, including, maybe, a few that you can't get any other way."

The Sweet Hereafter (1997):
There are two kinds of forgiveness in the world. One of them is basically Girardian scapegoating of the innocent except the innocent is yourself. The other kind, the kind that Sarah Polley (the girl from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen!) does in this movie, doesn't turn the desire to destroy back in on the self, but doesn't direct it anywhere else, either. The grief just evaporates, but in a strangely satisfying (as opposed to super-frustrating I-was-never-really-mad-in-the-first-place) way. It's weird that this is the only Atom Egoyan film that anyone in America ever watches, because The Adjuster is in a lot of ways much better ("You don't know it yet, but you're in shock")—maybe the bizarre promotional poster was the problem—but The Sweet Hereafter benefits from having less going on.

Johnny Guitar (1954):,
Kitsch, kitsch, and then some. You know how when Michael McKean says "I'm gonna go home and sleep with my wife!" at the end of Clue, it's actually the campiest line ever? That kind of crypto-homosexual ironic vortex of camp, but with Joan Crawford. But if you want to be a female gunslinger, camp is something you're going to have to deal with.

But a good cigarette is a smoke.

Sunday, cigarette #3

Whippersnappers Broockman and Adam have been having a back-and-forth on sin taxes. Adam responds to Broockman's accusation that the negative health effects of tobacco and alcohol disproportionately affect the poor:
Poor people don't buy cigarettes and alcohol because they're easy to buy, they buy them because their lives suck and smoking or drinking makes them feel better. [...] I'm all for anti-smoking campaigns. I'm all for AA. You can talk at me until you're blue in the face about the dangers of dependency but if I'm working 14 hours a day in some shithole and you charge me a half-hour's wages for my pack of smokes so that you don't have to pay 20 bucks a year to your local hospital I'm gonna be pissed.
To which Broockman responds:
The problem is this is exactly what complete capitalism does: creates false consciousness through religion, drugs, etc.

How about actually getting those people out of poverty so their lives don't suck? It turns out having cheap liquor and cigs doesn't help that fight - even if it makes it seem more bearable in the short term for those involved.
First of all, props to David for using “false consciousness.” I hadn’t run into that one since my satirical (at least from my end) conversation with a freshman Objectivist last September.

To answer his actual question, I agree with Adam's comment that "taking away the things that give temporary relief doesn't actually provide long-term relief," "only long-term relief provides long-term relief," and would only add that, in much the same way, only short-term relief provides short-term relief. There can be no substitute for little pleasures, and tobacco is an incomparable one.

Why it's bad to read too much Camille Paglia

Sunday, cigarette #2

Too much Camille Paglia in one sitting made me end up reading
To me, the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears
as "the meanest flower that blows can give," as in a bruise.

Girl, why you gotta be so cthonian?

"To Be True Christians and Political"

Sunday, cigarette #1
The Indians shall be brought together in towns to live politically... And because in order to be true Christians and political, like the rational men they are, it is necessary to be congregated and subjected in towns, and in convenient and accessible places, and that they not live dispersed through the sierras and jungles, and that they be congregated where they can live politically, like Christians. First Provincial Council of Mexico (1555), cited in Claudio Lomnitz’s Death and the Idea of Mexico
George Kateb's Molotov cocktail of a column on patriotism insists (among other things) that comparisons between country and family (including but not limited to expressions like “fatherland” and “mother country”) are dangerously misleading. Insofar as the family is understood as a refuge from the political, he’s right. But what if we took politics off the list of things the family is supposed to be a refuge from and replaced family-as-co-op with something more like family-as-baby’s-first-polis? Bringing things like power, rhetoric, and legitimacy into family life doesn't have to be incompatible with love and loyalty. (For example, The Godfather, where an unconditionally loyal family is also a place for politicking.)

This isn't a case for patriotism (for that, go here), and I hardly want to argue that patriotism and familial love should look exactly alike, but I think one reason the comparison between the two sounds so odd to our ears is that we’ve gone too far in the direction of making family relationships apolitical. Smaller family size, fewer inherited family businesses, and Social Security seem related to this trend, but whether they’re causes or indications is unclear to me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?

Saturday, cigarette #2

Yale Free Press blogger TKB (also of Eli's Coffer) weighs in on the attempt to make danger illegal:
For too long have Americans indulged in the frontier fantasy. We would-be cowboys have kidded ourselves into believing that ours is the society where risk-taking is lauded, responsibility accepted and honored, autonomy and individuality held sacred. Yes, Americans sure do talk the talk, and when strolling alongside those nancies in the EU, we seem to walk the walk, too. But step off the Champs-Élysées and down Nevsky Prospekt, and a different persona quickly appears...
An interesting rhetorical strategy. I hope it doesn't backfire: I can imagine an American looking at a Frenchman, then at a Russian, and saying, like Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, "You gotta punch your weight."

The Yale Mafia: Today the blogosphere, tomorrow the world!

Saturday, cigarette #1

The Party of the Right's fall alumni debate is a chance for the current administration to demonstrate to the "democracy of the dead/graduated" that they haven't killed the organization yet, and when I had the chance to throw one I picked the resolution "Resolved: Don't take sides against the family, ever." Consequently, I have cottoned to the phrase "Yale Mafia" like a boll weevil.

As proof that we aren't full exclusively of hot air, please observe the phenomenon Obama Works:
We believe that Barack Obama has the opportunity to make that fundamental change, and ask a question: What if a portion of the grassroots campaign were dedicated to visible public service projects? [...] Residents driving through town squares and walking through local parks would find groups of enthusiastic Obama volunteers picking up cigarette butts and candy wrappers. The volunteers on this project, and all such projects, would be decked out in Obama T-shirts, stickers and buttons.
"Uniting politics and service." Certainly beats a voter registration table.

I mention it because Obama Works was brought up during the question-and-answer period at a Millenial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics booksigning at DC's Politics & Prose today as evidence that the "millenials" were raised on community service, something the authors believe reveals itself in their politics. Congratulations to David Manners-Weber, co-founder of Obama Works and my FLL.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yale plays nice, and so (occasionally) does Dara

Thursday, cigarette #3

The last sentence of Dara's YDN column ('In creating dialogue, Elis should raise the bar') is:
We shouldn’t strive for a dialogue so universal that nobody feels comfortable speaking at all.
I think she could have been snarkier (and therefore better) by saying what I thought it said when I first read it:
We shouldn't strive for a dialogue so universal that nobody feels comfortable speaking it at all.
The first evokes a picture of Yalies shrugging their shoulders and not engaging in campus dialogue; the second evokes (at least to me) a bunch of Yalies being forced to conduct campus dialogue using only their high-school French. ("Oui, mais... l'education est comme... une porte...") The second, in addition to being snarkier, is closer to what it feels like to be limited by campus conventions on what constitutes productive speech.

For more on what some of those limitations are, read the whole column: non-academic settings — from common-room conversations to, yes, columns in the News — using jargon is usually an easy way to ensure one’s contribution will be dismissed or ignored. This has nothing to do with the content of these discussions. I’m not accusing Yale students of being frivolous, and I don’t want us to steer our attentions exclusively toward high-minded Major Issues. But by expressing disgust toward styles both rude and intellectual, we become relentlessly middlebrow...

The ideal of “constructive dialogue” is often invoked in the hopes of making Yale’s campus an example to the rest of the world. But a belief that we can construct exemplary dialogue designed for anyone to understand implies that the difference between Yalies and everyone else is our moral superiority...
For the record, I object to the taboo on supposedly jargon words like "liminality" and "narrative" as much as Dara does, but I object even more to the insistence that all dialogue be oriented towards consensus rather than one side's victory or defeat.

Male Headship & Crunchy Conservatism: The personal just gets more and more political...

Thursday, cigarette #2

John Zmirak suggests a possible alliance between paleo-libertarians and neo-distributists. He does a yeoman's job of finding common ground, but fails to answer the real problem, which is that, even if one were to make a successful alliance, it would still be an alliance of paleo-libertarians and neo-distributists.

I am suspicious of distributism (libertarianism is off the hook for the rest of the week), for one because I don't see any reason why cities can't be "local" in the crunchy sense of the term, and distributism's frequently explicit anti-urbanism worries me. Also, they are the faction from which I most often hear statements like "Salaried office-work is contrary to what labor should look like." There is valuable work other than that done by the sweat of one's brow, and I don't just mean tenured professorships.

The idea that being a mere "wage-earner" promotes servility and degradation assumes that a man whose job makes him a cog will think of himself as a cog. This may be true for some men, but it's just as conceivable that a man would subsume the uninspiring or even embarrassing particulars of his job under the (please forgive the word) empowering fact of being a breadwinner. I might be concerned if there were a man who did not exercise any leadership in any aspect of his life, but distributism, by encouraging each man to be his own boss rather than be a wage-earner, seems to be taking the scenic route towards avoiding this condition. I feel like viewing the family as an arena for leadership does this without eliminating industries I like. (This is why the emphasis on fathers as the heads of families is the thing I find most interesting about Catholic distributism.)

On the other hand, distributists have a great sense of humor.

From the train ride today

Thursday, cigarette #1

From Conor Cruise O'Brien's The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke:
[James] Mill was disposed to talk down to history, and to talk at it, telling it how it should have behaved.
In contrast to Burke's "blend of awe and horror, seeing in it the mysterious and terrible workings of God's Providence."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Camille Paglia sings as the Boy does by the Burying Ground, because she is afraid.

Tuesday, cigarette #1

Eve baits the hook with thoughts on Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae:
Several times, I found myself saying, "Oh, c'mon, you're just being trendy with that reading--this bit really isn't about daemonic lesbians or whatever"... but then she'd quote a few more passages from the same work, and I'd have to say, "Uh... you know, she's kind of on to something here." That didn't always happen--her reading of De Profundis as Wilde's sentimental return to his mommy is just infuriatingly bad, more on this in a moment--but it happened often enough that I'd say she earned the benefit of the doubt with me.
I have my own reasons for liking Camille Paglia. Her roaring erudition leaves out-of-the-blue quotes in its wake, and while I'm not sure that quoting Wilson Knight's reminder to wary bridegrooms that "we regularly let ourselves be born from a woman of whom we know nothing" or Mae West's opinion that "lesbians are not humorous persons" enhanced my appreciation of Henry James quite the way Paglia intended, those quotes sure were fun to come across, and there's one on every tenth page. She even pointed out a Wilde aphorism that I'd never come across: "People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is almost impossible to count them accurately." Whee! Also, it should not be surprising to any regular reader that, as someone who spends has been told "You sure read a lot of queer theory for a girl," I have affection for any woman with an appreciation for straight-woman-gay-man relationships. (This comes out more in Paglia's other books, but it's there in SP, i.e. "Gay men have an instinct for hierarchy unparalleled in contemporary culture, outside of Roman Catholicism.") My close relationships with gay men are characterized by highly mannered verbal style and an overabundance of ritualized activity in a way that my friendships with straight men and women unfortunately aren't, so Paglia, as a sister fruit fly (I think she prefers this expression), has my goodwill right out of the gate.

Still, Eve is right that her reading of Wilde is unforgiveably bad. It's hard to get on board with her proclamation that "no great work of Romantic imagination has anything to do with conscience" when the book she's writing about is Dorian Gray. Wilde summarized the book by saying, "The reason he destroys [the portrait] is that he says, 'This picture mars my pleasure in life. It is conscience to me; I shall kill it; I shall get rid of this visible emblem of conscience,' and by trying to kill his own soul the man directly dies." It's hard to read amoral Decadent paganism into this. A narrative of Wilde's artistic development that says "Wilde became humane only when he was already ruined as an artist and thinker" (p.515) ignores that fact that, though he wrote his best plays after embracing homosexuality, he wrote his best poem ("Reading Gaol") after embracing Catholicism. I always thought it was impossible to take tragedy seriously without also taking morality seriously, and I'm surprised that Paglia's intuitions seem to tell her just the opposite: one can care about either tragedy or morality, but not both.

It's most frustrating when she sets up the Apollonian/Dionysian dynamic in opposition to Christianity (under the assumption that Christianity can be neither?), because she so obviously understands that when secular thinking replaces religious thinking, bad things happen! From the Swinburne/Pater chapter:
Since Romanticism, sexuality has been asked to bear a burden for which it is ill-equipped. Swinburne's poetry is one of the most comprehensive modern attempts to turn sex into epistemology.
Surely she means "one of the most comprehensive modern attempts to turn sex into epistemology, aside from the book you are holding."

Sex is one of a dwindling number of interactions that people still accept as being too grand and mysterious to be explained merely in terms of contracts and rational choice, so it's understandable that, when religion, love of family, and art no longer fill people's spiritual needs, they seize on something that can. ("The man who knocks on the door of the brothel is looking for God.") But that doesn't mean that sex can bear the entire weight of man's desire for transcendent experience, and, after 650 pages, I still wasn't sure whether Paglia realized this or not.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Libertarianism (Hunh! Good God, Y'all!), What Is It Good For?

Sunday, cigarette #1

Most young conservatives have designs on the movement ("Conservatism, will you come bust up this chiffarobe?"), but there's always the danger that the conservatism you're selling will exclude some otherwise loyal wing of the Right. However, I'm still looking for reasons not to alienate the libertarians. As the justifications for economic freedom become more empirical and less ideological, the extent to which libertarianism was ever "of the Right" becomes less clear, and I'm not sure that liberals my age like political freedom less than I do. Insofar as they're willing to use the language of "rights" when I'm not (that is to say, ever), maybe more.

But there may be a reason to keep them around even if we decide that, where conservatism is going, libertarian thought cannot follow. This from William F. Buckley's introduction to Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? (o.o.p.):
It is intellectually stimulating to discuss alternatives to municipalized streets, even as it is to speculate on whether God’s wishes would better be served if we ordered fried or scrambled eggs for breakfast on this particular morning. Yet conservatives must concern themselves not only with ideals, but with matters of public policy, and I mean by that something more than the commonplace that one must maneuver within the limits of conceivable action... Chesterton reminds us that many dogmas are liberating because the damage they do when abused cannot compare with the damage that might have been done had whole peoples not felt their inhibiting influence. If our society seriously wondered whether to denationalize the lighthouses, it would not wonder at all whether to nationlize the medical profession.
Libertarianism-as-noble-lie justifies its coexistence in the movement, although admittedly not its existence in the mind of any given conservative, (Sorry, JM.), and, the more I read Reason, the less I think anything can.

So you're saying I can be postmodern and love Kirk?

Friday, cigarette #2

Dan McCarthy's review of The Postmodern Mind of Russell Kirk has hit the cyber-shelves to well-deserved acclaim. I join the resounding chorus, with two reservations.
Yet Kirk admitted to a few areas of agreement with antistatists: “they do not believe that the United States should station garrisons throughout the world; no more do I,” he wrote in the same essay, and he found libertarian resistance to collectivism and centralization laudable. Russello looks only briefly at Kirk’s relationship to libertarianism. That’s a pity, since the question of why Kirk felt such animosity toward a group with which he had a good deal in common (in practice, if not in theory) is an interesting one, and his attitude could be fruitfully compared with the disdain many postmodernists feel for capitalism and classical liberalism.
Opposition to hair-trigger interventionism doesn't make for the most inviting common ground, being as broad as it is. It certainly doesn't make Kirk a closeted libertarian (which, to be fair, is not what McCarthy is trying to imply), or even a closeted libertarian-sympathizer (which might be).

Edmund Burke condemned the profession of mining as "servile, degrading, unseemly, and unmanly" because, in David Bromwich's words, "the work itself and its final fruit are so remote from each other in time and space." This is certainly a more subtle objection to capitalism than the agrarian one ("The only good market is a farmer's market!") or the Luddite/traditionalist one ("Insofar as capitalism necessarily embraces technology that alienates people from each other and from themselves, it's bad!"). In any case, it's clear that the man Adam Smith called "the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do" had some qualms about the market, so it shouldn't be surprising that Kirk would, too.

Also, while McCarthy is right that Kirk understands the narrative of history in terms of truth and the postmodernists understand it in terms of power, I wish he had dedicated a couple of sentences to how power fits into postmodern conservatism, not just because I'm interested in the question but because I feel like power is one of the biggest differences between the pomo Left and the pomo Right: they think power relationships have to be neutralized, we think they only have to be sanctified (i.e. love is a power relationship, but that's fine because introducing love into a power relationship makes it okay, etc.)

On the other hand, McCarthy scores a definite win with "an obsession with theory, a keen interest in power relationships, a yen for the transgressive." Could there be a better description of Yale's right-wing scene?

Hank Williams, You Problematized My Worldview

Saturday, cigarette #1

Rebecca Solnit over at Orion wonders why so many people who love Nature have such contempt for the down-home folks who actually live out there in it ("One Nation Under Elvis: Environmentalists might be a lot more effective if they listened to more country music — and especially if they listened more often to country music listeners"):
We were celebrating two weeks of rafting down the central river at the outpost’s big honky-tonkish nightclub, where the DJ kept playing country songs, to which all the locals would loop around gracefully, clasped together. But my compadres kept making faces of disgust at the music and asking the DJ to put on something else. He’d oblige with reggae, mostly, and we’d wave our limbs vaguely, dancing solo and free-form as white people have danced to rock-and-roll since the mid-1960s. Everyone else would sit down to wait this other music out. It was not a great movement-building exercise. How far were you going to get with a community when you couldn’t stand their music or even be diplomatic about it?
Solnit proceeds to make the case that the sort of people who like country music aren't necessarily so different from her hipster friends, but she makes a mistake by trying to make this case by pointing out that there is such a thing as the Liberal Redneck. The most interesting affinities aren't between urban Obama supporters and the Dixie Chicks, but between urban localists like Luc Sante (who, not coincidentally, loves the Delta blues) and honest-to-God conservative Nashville country (i.e. not Willie Nelson, not Johnny Cash). It's not that both Red States and Blue States can accommodate homegrown liberals, but that both can accommodate homegrown irony. Luc Sante's love for New York is as earnest as a redneck's love for Carolina, but the liberal prejudice is that rednecks are too "simple" to have any self-awareness or sense of humor about theirs. Solnit describes the moment she realized this was false:
My own conversion to country music came all of a sudden in 1990, around another campfire, also in Nevada. The great Western Shoshone anti-nuclear and land-rights activist Bill Rosse, a decorated World War II vet and former farm manager, unpacked his guitar and sang Hank Williams and traditional songs for hours. I was enchanted as much by the irreverent rancor of some of the songs as by the pure blue yearning of others. I’d had no idea such coolness, wit, and poetry was lurking in this stuff I was taught to scorn before I’d met it.
Not only does fly-over country express both environmentalism and irony in unexpected ways, the Blue States aren't half so good at either as they think. For excellent politics-of-symbolism and Ansel Adams-bashing, read on:
The environmental movement’s founding father, John Muir, was himself a Wisconsin farm boy, and he did not so much flee the farm for the wilderness as invent wilderness as a counter-image to the farm on which his brutal father nearly worked him to death. Muir worked later as a shepherd and lumber-miller in the Sierra Nevada and much later married into an orchard-owning family, but he didn’t have much to say about work, and what little he did say wasn’t positive. The wilderness he sought was solitary, pure, and set apart from human society, corporeal sustenance, and human toil—which is why he had to forget about the Indians who were still subsisting on the land there. This apartness and forgetting so beautifully codified in Ansel Adams’s wilderness photographs has shaped the vision of much of the environmental movement since them. The Sierra Club, which Muir cofounded with a group of University of California professors in 1892, saw nature as not where one lived or worked but where one vacationed.
I've always maintained that country music, far from being pre-modernism's last gasp, is the most postmodern genre working in America today. One more reason why traditionalism shouldn't look like trying to recapture pre-modern innocence: it never existed in the first place.

Lastly, head over to Nine Bullets for an mp3 of Red Eye Junction's "Anything But Country."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Canon Wars Return!

Tuesday, cigarette #1

Right-wing brothers-in-arms at The Princeton Tory posted a report that Dean Nancy Weiss Malkiel had been fired from her position as Dean of Princeton College, which turned out not to be true. (Tough year for the Tory.)

Ivy Gate has responded by relaunching the canon wars:
Up with the canon! Down with free thought! says:
Yeah, I mean, I honestly don't know anything about this lady, but fuck her for not accepting the conservative strictures foisted upon us by the racist, misogynistic scholars of our past. If I wanted a woman or minority's opinion on something, I'd hire them to do some kind of menial labor for me.

Columbia 08 says:
Whatever one's opinion of the Western canon, one cannot dispute the fact that there is a clear and linear tradition of influential thought with respect to Western literature, philosophy, and art. In order to claim any sort of expertise in these fields, one needs to have knowledge of this tradition. To claim that there is no set of books that one must have read is, quite simply, not true. You cannot be an expert in Western Philosophy if you have not read Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, etc. You cannot be an expert in Western Art if you are unfamiliar with Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, etc. I suppose one can claim that I am biased because my school has a Core dedicated to this very end, but I think my position is relatively unassailable.

Penn '08 says:
Holy shit, man. Are we honestly still fighting the canon wars? I had no idea that the seemingly outlandish and conservative views of Allen/Harold Bloom continue to hold such weight among our generation's scholastic elite. If cultural indoctrination can be so easily swallowed by ostensibly critically-thinking Ivy Leaguers, I shudder at the thought of our nation's ability to elect a black man or woman to the office of the presidency.

@Penn '08 says:
You sir, are an idiot. Not only do you lump together the disparate opinions of Harold and Allen Bloom, but you also suggest that the Western Canon is based on something other than a merit-driven view of history. In other words, you're alleging that the Western Canon is bigoted. I'm not white. I'm supposed to like Alice Walker. I think Alice Walker is pure shit. Shakespeare will always be better than Alice Walker. Shakespeare will always be white.
FYI: Harold Bloom did include the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Koran, Borges, Neruda, Marquez, Achebe, Rushdie, and more on his supposedly bigoted list of the Western Canon.

Ralph says:
Aristotle will always be there. No-one has ever been prevented from reading him. Stop worrying about whether one and all are required to do so during their undergraduate careers.

The Malkiel quote to which they're responding:
I don’t believe in a canon, I don’t believe any of our departments believe in a canon. Due to the explosion of knowledge in all of these fields it is such that they no longer operate that way. You should have a familiarity with, if you are an English major, different periods, different genres. It’s the same if you’re a history major. But it has long since passed since a department was willing to say confidently: “Here are the big books and you must’ve read those books.” Knowledge is too diverse and complicated in most fields to be able to do that anymore. I think that the biggest challenge is getting students better distributed among the departments. We have different levels of quality in education that our students receive while here because of the imbalance.

I have no further comment, except to point out that neither of the people who invoked him could spell Allan Bloom's name correctly. There is more that unites us than divides us.

Monday, March 3, 2008

4 out of 5 Camel smokers experience relief from fragmentation of identity!

Monday, cigarette #1

If constructing an identity that avoids Romantic solipsism but still exists when no one else is around sounds like your kind of high-stakes postmodern parlor game, Richard Klein suggests you take up smoking:
Like writing, smoking belongs to that category of action that falls in between the states of activity and passivity — a somewhat embarrassed, embarrassing condition, unclean, unproductive, a mere gesture.
Christian? No problem. From The Way of All Flesh:
[Ernest] admitted that Paul would almost certainly have condemned tobacco in good round terms if he had known of its existence. Was it not then taking rather a mean advantage of the Apostle to stand on his not having forbidden it? On the other hand, it was possible that God knew Paul would have forbidden smoking, and had purposely arranged the discovery of tobacco for a period at which Paul should be no longer living. This might seem rather hard on Paul, considering all he had done for Christianity, but it would be made up to him in other ways.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

How not to defend tradition: Have conservative theory begin and end with Burkean traditionalism

Sunday, cigarette #1

Before he sent it to the publisher, Edmund Burke sent draft copies of the Reflections to friends. One of these was Philip Francis, who wrote back that Burke would suffer embarrassment if he didn't get rid of his rhapsodic paragraph about Marie Antoinette ("It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness..."):
In my opinion, all that you say of the Queen is pure foppery. If she be a perfect female character, you ought to take your ground upon her virtues. If she be the reverse, it is ridiculous in any but a lover to place her personal charms in opposition to her crimes. [...] In effect, when you assert her claim to protection and respect on no other topics than those of gallantry, and beauty, and personal accomplishments, you virtually abandon the proof and assertion of her innocence, which you know is the point substantially in question. Pray, sir, how long have you felt yourself so desperately disposed to admire the ladies of Germany? I despise and abhor, as much as you do, the personal insult and outrage, even to guilt itself, if I see it, where it ought to be, dejected and helpless; but it is vain to expect that I, or any reasonable man, shall regret the sufferings of a Messalina as I should those of a Mrs. Crewe or a Mrs. Burke; I mean all that is beautiful or virtuous among women. Is it nothing but outside? Have they no moral minds? Or are you such a determined champion of beauty as to draw your sword in defense of any jade upon earth, provided she be handsome?
Here is Burke's defense:
Am I obliged to prove juridically the virtues of all those I shall see suffering every kind of wrong, and contumely, and risk of life, before I endeavour to interest others in their sufferings, and before I endeavour to excite horror against midnight assassins at back-stairs, and their more wicked abettors in pulpits? What! Are not high rank, great splendour of descent, great personal elegance and outward accomplishments, ingredients of moment in forming the interest we take in the misfortunes of men? [...]

You do not believe this fact, nor that these are my real feelings, but that the whole is affected, or, as you express it, downright foppery. My friend, I tell you it is the truth; and that it is true, and will be truth, when you and I are no more; and will exist as long as men with their natural feelings shall exist. I shall say no more on this foppery of mine.
Well, "defense" might be too strong a word.

Forget using tradition to justify things, conservatism since Burke has been knocked back to justifying tradition itself, and I'm not sure how much hope can be put in "Because it's familiar," "You mean you don't feel it?" and "Come on, could it have lasted this long if it didn't work?"

Tradition as "a way of giving people a way to understand the sacrifices they need to go through in a way that provides consolation to them and, perhaps more importantly, gives them a sense of meaning" (ELT) sounds pretty good — meaning and consolation are two things that it's difficult for an isolated self to generate. Also, it's difficult to consider a life heroic or tragic rather than simply of great interest to the person living it if the final curtain comes down when you die. Tradition, even after its own "Burke is dead, and we have killed him" crisis of credibility, is still the only thing with the power to pack life with things like inheritance and consequence, which keeps those acute feelings of your own absurdity at bay.

Well, sometimes. Wearing a bowtie usually has the opposite effect.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Conservatism is the failure of tradition."

Saturday, cigarette #1
Traditionalism is unreflective and an immediate experience of a way of life. It has no need for intellectual formulation. It just is. Conservatism is the representation of the gap between the traditional and the political; for conservatism as an ideology is self-conscious. It is a reflection of the fact that the meaning of tradition is no longer self-evident. The Conservative Political Tradition in Britain and the United States
Mild-mannered reporter Michael Brendan Dougherty drew the CPAC beat for AmCon, and the article is an ace. After pointing out this year's entrants in the ridiculous t-shirt stakes — "I only sleep with Republicans" and "I'd rather be waterboarded than vote for McCain," the latter of which he models here — he turns out some very sage thoughts on the Movement:
The bullying bumper stickers, the man in the dolphin outfit, and the best-sellers by radio personalities are all the result of conservatives turning toward movement politics. It is tempting to sniff at the CPAC crowd — many of whom claim to be conservatives but cannot tell the difference between Russell Kirk and Captain Kirk. But that would be wrong.

Moving from ideas to policy advocacy and finally to governance requires building an electoral coalition that will, by its very nature, simplify subtle reflections into campaign slogans. When William F. Buckley tied himself, and by extension National Review, to the cause of Joe McCarthy, the conservative intellectual movement was married to a populist base. In his 1992 Republican convention speech, Pat Buchanan spoke of a great class of voters: "They don't read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they came from the same schoolyards and playgrounds and towns as we did. They share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams. They are the conservatives of the heart." Many of them are now at CPAC — and that's part of the problem.
At this point, Dougherty could easily be gearing up for “We’re going to be the Stupid Party again if those of us who know Russell Kirk from Captain Kirk don’t hop to it,” but he isn't. It isn't what mingling with the salt of the earth has done to the elites, but what mingling with the elites has done to the salt of the earth. The next paragraph:
The conference flattens the political passions of these conservatives, channeling their energy into national politics and away from local concerns. Thus the range of activism narrows to immigration, foreign policy, and the solipsistic goal of sustaining the conservative movement intself. This is good for keeping Beltway institutions well funded but bad for the actual work of conservatism.
The problem isn’t that “conservatives of the heart” were only ever good for electoral muscle. The problem is that getting involved in the national movement has distracted them from the role they should be playing, which looks more like the localism I keep hearing about.

But allowing CPAC to be dominated by "conservatives of the heart" doesn't just muddle the division of labor and leave the outposts of localism untended. It also makes DC conservatives vulnerable to the fallacy that "conservatives of the heart" have an enviable, unquestioning attitude towards tradition that intellectual conservatism can only try to approximate. (See the paragraph from The Conservative Political Tradition above.)

The crunchy cons of the Ivy League, if Yale is any indication, generally mean what they say when they talk about localism, but they all end up in DC anyway. This is as it should be. Conservatism needs an intellectual wing to do its legwork, not just policy wonks but also philosophers. (Dear Conservative Movement: Postmodernism happened. Wanted to let you know — something you might have to deal with. Best wishes, the Party of the Right at Yale.) That's why I'm not sure I want to endorse Daniel Larison's suggestion that the conservative movement vacate DC altogether. I don't know what the project of the next conservatism is going to be, but it can't look like an attempt to recapture our innocence, or the innocence of the "conservatives of the heart."

On the other hand, Larison's suggestion that the movement distance itself from the Republican Party sounds like an excellent idea. As pointed as "We prefer Ike" was in 1956, imagine it in 2008...