Another Midweek's Musings
Yes, I'm getting lazy on titles...
[Rubens, Massacre of the Innocents. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, or Childermas]
I am in the elementary school parking lot, having just picked up my youngest daughter at the end of the school day. The crush of cars full of little people and their driving parents is intense. The story of America: Too many automobiles in too small a space.
I and others do our part to make the process more human by courteously letting people into the main line going out from the adjoining lots. One of the people I let in is in a pickup truck with a bunch of bumper stickers all over the rear windows. Young-ish male driver, bearded. He does not acknowledge me allowing him in. That’s fine.
But what’s not fine is that he subsequently has two opportunities to let others in ahead of him before we hit the main road and he refuses both.
I note the fact with care. I am now waiting for the next time I will have the opportunity to extend human kindness to him, and it will on that occasion be steadfastly refused. I have to work as I watch him refuse his duty to control my anger with this man.
This is how reciprocity works in our species. We get upset at such things (if we are not ourselves maladjusted in the way Pickup Truck Guy is) because we are recognizing the existence of free riders on the economy of goodwill who, if numerous enough, will crash the whole social system. You must pay it back, or we will protect our order against you. Your failure to reciprocate will be noted and you will be excluded from the circle of exchange.
Those who say you should continue to be indiscriminately kind to such people, with no correction of their deviance from the moral system of exchange, do not understand how social orders break down. He must be taught the lesson. I am happy to be given the responsibility to do the teaching the next time he crosses my path.
This, which is based on something I wrote here some time back, was just up recently at Intellectual Takeout.
In the last weeks of his life, in August of 1776, David Hume was visited by his friend Adam Smith. Hume had advanced stomach or colon cancer, but he was so cheered to see Smith that the latter couldn’t help but express his hope that, given Hume’s vivacity, he might recover.
Hume assured Smith that he knew the end was near and that he was so prepared for the journey that, in reading Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead, which discusses the excuses reluctant shades give to Charon the ferryman to be excused from a place on his boat, he could not reasonably apply any of the excuses to his own case. Smith then recounts how the dying Hume began joking about new excuses he might try with Charon, among which was the following (this is from Smith’s letter to another friend):
“I thought I might say to him, Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time, that I may see how the Public receives the alterations.” But Charon would answer, “When you have seen the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There will be no end of such excuses; so, honest friend, please step into the boat.””
Who knew Charon was so well apprised of the incorrigible tendencies of the writer to never be finished revising until the text is literally taken away from him by forces beyond his control?
Pew reports that half of teens have experienced “cyberbullying,” i.e., being called a name online.
They also get into the attitudes of teenagers as to how to deal with this dreadful aggression. Non-white teens claim it happens more often to them solely because of their minoritized identity, and large majorities think the government needs to get involved and permanently remove people from the online world if they participate in this behavior.
My anecdotal evidence as a teacher corroborates the attitudes of young people on this. Many are incredibly thin-skinned and begin making exaggerated claims about “bullying” as soon as the slightest criticism of them or something they said or believe appears. They want draconian responses to such things and have little tolerance for the idea of a wide field of expression that might inevitably have to tolerate some abuse in the interest of freedom.
I’m generally unsympathetic for a number of reasons.
One of those reasons is my own experience as a young person in a world where I’d wager something approximating 100% of youth were at one point or another targeted for non-cyber-bullying, or what we might perhaps technically refer to as plain old bullying—that is, when someone standing right in front of you calls you a name (and not infrequently shoves you immediately before or after) rather than typing it on a keyboard from somewhere else on the planet at a safe distance and sending it to you through communicative technology while you sit in your secure room in which the sender of the message is not present reading the dumb thing he wrote from far away about you, the dumb thing which you could just as easily not read at all if you cared to do so.
Somehow, my generation made it through this awful experience.
The maladies of Safetyism (all must be perfectly protected from all conceivable offenses, and anything that falls short of this is intolerable) and Narcissistic Egoism (I am a pure and sacred entity who cannot tolerate the slightest challenge or criticism and I demand that power respond to any such challenges or criticisms by removing their source from my vision) are ruining this generation of young people. And it is not at all clear they will be able to grow out of it, given how pervasive this culture is becoming.
One of my teachers, Bennett Berger, giving a summation of his view of his own place in the intellectual world, a view with which I am in great sympathy: “I am an ‘intellectual,’ which in this context means a sociologist without specialization, who hence has no expertise, no expert reputation to risk by talking about something that everyone wants talked about and on which everyone has opinions that, as we all know, are as good as anyone else’s. In an indiscreet moment, Talcott Parsons once described himself with a devilish grin as having ‘got away with’ being a pure theorist in the empirical science called sociology. I am one of that small-but-growing group of sociologists who has so far been able to get away with being an intellectual—untainted by expertise.”
The painter Pierre Bonnard (his Self-portrait above) apparently used to sneak painting supplies into the Louvre to touch up his own paintings that were hanging there.
This is the correct attitude on revision. See Hume on Charon above. The. Work. Is. Never. Done.
It’s good sometimes just to let the radicals talk, without any effort at response. Just to let them say the things they actually believe out loud in public, to give them adequate space to present the ideas they believe should be put into practice, the ideas they think would, if made policy, substantially improve our world.
This woman is doing all of us a great service by going on the record with these intriguing beliefs. By all means, let us present them without commentary to the American people and see what they think of the direction of the Woke left. If the majority are so morally adrift as to see what she is saying as desirable, it will serve as a substantial proof of the infeasibility of democratic polity.
“The family [is built on] huge amounts of unpaid labor…children [need] much more autonomy over the kinds of households they live in…[The family] is the site of the overwhelming majority of rape and abuse…we could develop forms of comradeliness or forms of the xeno-fam that can be at least as good as relationships of biological nature.”
“We’re seeing a terrifying attack on abortion, [which is] the right to stop doing gestational work…[it is] a form of killing that we need to be able to defend…the violence that a fetus…metes out against a gestator is unacceptable for someone who doesn’t want to do gestational work…[abortion is] go[ing] on strike or exit[ing] that workplace.”
About 45% of Americans believe the US should be a “Christian nation,” and 51% believe it should not, whatever they believe that term means (no effort is made in the survey to provide any definition of the meaning of the term for respondents). And 60% believe the US was founded as a Christian nation.
Pew, of course, intends this to be seen as evidence of the scary rise of the terrible thing “Christian nationalism” that has the media’s knickers all in a twist at present.
It would be interesting to know precisely what those in the 45% were thinking about when they heard that term “Christian nation.” I suspect you might find something more complicated than the media’s current bogeyman.
Professional pollsters, however, are seldom concerned about such matters of mere knowledge. The goal is to gin up political concern about menacing dangers to all the good things.
I tell students that if they have only one book on conservatism to take with them to the island on which they’re shipwrecked, they could do worse than Russell Kirk’s A Program for Conservatives, which is almost impossible to find these days. Happily, if they can get a Wifi connection on the deserted island, they can consult it on archive.org.
Just recently rereading the chapter on “The Problem of Wants” and left, as frequently happens with Kirk, bitterly envious at his power to express so vividly and succinctly, in just a few lines, a tremendously important thing—in this case, the distinct dangers presented to a traditional culture by untempered materialism and the woefully misguided belief that a human society is an economy and nothing else:
“A time of rising prices, booming wages, and incalculable material alteration does not guarantee prosperity for everyone. It usually has meant privation and dismay for people with fixed or tardily-altering incomes—the thrifty, the old, pensioners, teachers, the clergy, endowed institutions, the independent shopkeeper, the small farmer, and other persons and establishments which constitute an element of stability and tradition in our civilization—precisely the classes which a just society is intended to shelter. Such a time, on the other hand, is well enough for the rough customer, the smooth operator, the rolling stone, the contact man, the gentleman who puts No. 1 first…Some generations of indiscriminate getting and spending are certain to develop a remarkable type of man. The automobile will be his deity, and to it he will sacrifice sometimes nearly half his annual income, his domestic comfort, his family life, and his church. The television-set will be his preacher, and inanity will compete with inanity for his attention…He will live in a vast ant-hill of a city, and he will be precisely like his neighbors, and all of them will be decadent; for decadence, I repeat, is the loss of an object in life…No matter what the volume of its steel production, the nation which has disavowed principle is vanquished.”