by John Donne (1572-1631)
Monthly Archives: August 2017
by John Donne (1572-1631)
“Figures at the seaside”
Pablo Picasso (1931)
What does an angry white boy really want? “A girlfriend,” comes the mocking answer, and there’s probably more to that than mockery. The proprietor of one of the nation’s premier websites for neo-Nazi knuckleheads advised his colleagues in Charlottesville that, after the protest — which included a murder — “random girls will want to have sex with you.” I ran this proposition past a few random girls, and I suspect that the apfelstrudelführers are going to go home disappointed. There are many shades of white, and Mom’s-basement white is the least popular crayon in the box.
The angry white boys do not have a serious political agenda. They don’t have any straightforward demands like the Teamsters or PETA do, and they do not have a well-developed ideological position like the Communists do, though it would be inaccurate to say that they lack an ideology entirely. Their agenda is their anger, an anger that is difficult to understand. Middle-class white men in the United States of America in anno Domini 2017 have their problems, to be sure. Life is full of little disappointments. But their motive is not to be found in their exterior circumstances, which are pretty good.
Maybe too good: A great many of these young men have an interest in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology — they like to think of themselves as “alpha males,” as though they were living in a chimpanzee troop — but it never occurs to them to consider their own status as rejects and failed men in that context. Online fantasy lives notwithstanding, random girls do not want to have sex with them. How do we know this? Because they are carrying tiki torches in a giant dork parade in Charlottesville. There’s no prom queen waiting at home. If we credit their own sociobiological model, they are the superfluous males who would have been discarded, along with their genetic material, by the pitiless state of nature. The fantasy of proving that they are something else is why they dream of violence and confrontation. They are the products of the soft liberal-democratic society they hold in contempt — and upon which they depend, utterly. James Alex Fields Jr. is angry at the world, and angry at his mother, probably for the same reason.
What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians — may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.
I agree, in part, with all of these pieces on the Confederate statue issue…
First, at The Federalist:
The statue and the name should remain, not because they represent a history and heritage worth celebrating, but because they represent the history and heritage we have. It is not uplifting or inspiring, but haunting. And that is the point. Lee’s cause is an everlasting stain on this country’s history. It is not to be romanticized, but it must be remembered. Our rejection of it does not erase its existence or change the fact that we must deal with its aftermath. What one should see in a statue of Lee is a ghost: a remainder from a past we cannot banish. It is important to remember that we live in a country built by strife and bloodshed, as well as hope and prosperity. That is the value of a Lee monument in a society that has largely rejected him: to remember he existed, remember his mistakes, and preserve that memory to avoid repeating it. Having it in a public space can be a reminder that this sordid history is still with us, no matter how we try to bury it.
It is important for everyday people, most of whom try to be decent as well, to remember Lee—not as a hero, but as a man who devoted himself to the wrong ideals and, whatever sort of individual he may have been, found himself on the wrong side of one of the most decisive and morally laden moments in history. Instead of tearing down the monuments that stand in his name, we should build more right next to them and remind ourselves not only of the man but also of the trail of suffering and dead his decision to fight for the Confederacy left in its wake. Accompany his statues with displays that affirm the great service his defeat did to this country, and pay tribute to the progress made possible by it and the people who overcame the challenges he left behind.
These lessons shouldn’t be confined to museums. We have to make people confront it in their daily lives. That, after all, is where the past still confronts us and where our takeaways from his life’s story have their impact. The white-nationalist mobs who see Lee as a hero of Western civilization are proof themselves that the true lesson of Lee and his legacy still needs to be taught—evidently, some of us aren’t getting it.
Next, from Rich Lowry:
Some discrimination is in order. There’s no reason to honor Jefferson Davis, the blessedly incompetent president of the Confederacy. New Orleans just sent a statue of him to storage — good riddance. Amazingly enough, Baltimore has a statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the monstrous Dred Scott decision, which helped precipitate the war. A city commission has, rightly, recommended its destruction.
Robert E. Lee, on the other hand, is a more complicated case. He was no great friend of slavery…After the war, he accepted defeat and did his part to promote national healing. Yet, faced with a momentous choice at the start of the war, he decided he was a Virginia patriot rather than an American nationalist…He betrayed the U.S. government and fought on the side devoted to preserving chattel slavery…Lee himself opposed building Confederate monuments in the immediate aftermath of the war. “I think it wiser,” he said, “not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”
And from Kyle Smith:
Even if taking down the statues is a good idea, this isn’t the moment to do it. Emotions are running hot. When a mob is in a frenzy, maintain order until tempers cool. Don’t give it space to destroy. Rich believes that the statues need to go because they are becoming “rallying points for neo-Nazis,” but I can’t believe that the white supremacists, small and feeble as their movement is, would disappear if all of the old Confederate statues were taken down. If anything, that would give them a fillip of energy, a recruitment tool. The best response to white supremacists is to let them march and let them speak — then ridicule and marginalize them. This isn’t hard: They’re already ridiculous and marginal. Civil War statues may be beloved by white supremacists, but they are a kind of speech, and the antidote to bad speech is more speech. Don’t care for a statue of Robert E. Lee? Fine. I don’t either. Let’s recontextualize it. Let’s put up a statue of Harriet Tubman next to it. History is an ongoing discussion.
Bottom line: These decisions cannot be allowed to be made by a mob and a distinction needs to be made between actual monuments to the Confederacy and statues that are not monuments to the Confederacy (i.e. the Castleman statue in Louisville). But that would require thought and mobs are unthinking, so here we are, in an unnecessary situation where everyone is pissed. I believe the conservative instinct is the answer here: Do nothing. Let it be. As usual, Kevin Williamson says it best:
Many of the monuments and statues now being abominated and disassembled were not erected in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but some years after, often in reaction to such modest advances in the political and social condition of African Americans as the early 20th century produced. Some were nothing short of consecrated shrines to white supremacy erected to Southern political powers in league with such miscreants as the Ku Klux Klan. To the extent that today’s reaction against these monuments is in essence Democrats cleaning up their own mess, there is some justice to it. But there would have been some justice to it in 1938 or 1964 as well. The current attack on Confederate monuments is only another front in the Left’s endless kulturkampf.
We should not, in any case, accept the fiction that what is transpiring at the moment is a moral crusade rather than political opportunism…The older and wiser cultures learn to absorb, to repurpose, and to allow the patina of age to cover up the lingering pangs of historical wrongs. Which is good: You cannot walk 25 feet in Rome without seeing a monument associated with some ancient horror or a statue of some god-awful emperor, but it would be a shame if they’d all been knocked down for political or moralistic purposes. And not all of these are important works of art: Some of them are simply old.
Keeping non-whites in a state of panic and agitation is necessary to Democrats’ political aspirations…The Democrats’ motives here are tawdry and self-serving, for the most part. As cheap and silly as Southern sentimentality can be, the desire to reduce and humiliate one’s fellow citizens is distasteful. We would all do better to take Abraham Lincoln’s advice: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”…What ought conservatives to do? They should listen to the oldest and most widely applicable of all the councils of conservatism and do — exactly — nothing. The ancient conservative bias in favor of inertia here points toward the wiser course…In the words of the conservative philosopher Paul McCartney: Let it be. Republicans were on the winning side of the Civil War the first time around. There is no need to join the losing side after the fact.
Why I have special contempt for the “at least Trump fights!” people: “The real threat to traditional conservatism is the mindset that made it possible to form even a theoretical alliance with the alt-right in the first place: the idea that winning and fighting are self-justifying.”
Jonathan Meades reviews an anthology of Hipgnosis’s vinyl cover art
The day you discover Jane Austen is a great day.
A walking tour of London’s forgotten libraries
A history of plywood and how it helped the Allies win WWII
Earliest known mosaic of Jonah and the whale discovered in Israel
What libraries lost when they got rid of card catalogs
Paul Cezanne (1890)
What Philip Larkin’s personal objects tell us about the poet
Why I love album rock (I refuse to call it progressive rock) in a nutshell: “Not only did prog lyricists eschew the themes of resentment and cynicism we find in other rock music, but the musicians drew from more staid traditions of classical music and even Anglican hymns…In one of the most infamous sections in The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom complained that young people were listening only to rock music and not to classical music—and that rock music appealed exclusively to the passions, leaving no room for refined, more rationally guided sentiment. Bloom’s assessment of rock music could not be less true of prog, with its elaborate concept albums and musical complexity—to say nothing of the way it was influenced by and carried forth the tradition of European classical music. Here was music that was challenging to compose and to enjoy, and that did not appeal exclusively to the passions…The rise of prog rock shows that it is possible to have artistically ambitious and intellectually sophisticated modern music that embraces and draws on rather than rebelling against artistic tradition.”
A great David Brooks column on how to roll back fanaticism. Here’s an excerpt:
We’re living in an age of anxiety. The country is being transformed by complex forces like changing demographics and technological disruption. Many people live within a bewildering freedom, without institutions to trust, unattached to compelling religions and sources of meaning, uncertain about their own lives. Anxiety is not so much a fear of a specific thing but a fear of everything, an unnamable dread about the future. People will do anything to escape it.
Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment. He lacks inwardness and therefore is terrified by the possibility of anxiety. He has been escaping self-scrutiny his whole life and has become a genius at the self-exculpating rationalization. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong.
Trump gave people a quick pass out of anxiety. Everything could be blamed on foreigners, the idiotic elites. The problems are clear, and the answers are easy. He has loosed a certain style of thinking. The true link between the Trump administration and those pathetic loons in Charlottesville is not just bigotry, but also conspiracy mongering.
The age of anxiety inevitably leads to an age of fanaticism, as people seek crude palliatives for the dizziness of freedom. I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.
In fact, the most powerful answer to fanaticism is modesty. Modesty is an epistemology directly opposed to the conspiracy mongering mind-set. It means having the courage to understand that the world is too complicated to fit into one political belief system. It means understanding there are no easy answers or malevolent conspiracies that can explain the big political questions or the existential problems.
The vanishing world of the Transylvanian aristocracy
One of the world’s most confounding literary mysteries may finally be, in part, solved
“The Song of the Lark”
Jules Adolphe Breton (1884)
The real Prufrock behind T.S. Eliot’s famous poem
Toscanini, a self-made and principled musician
You’ve probably never heard of him, but you know his work
7 things you need to know about the Charlottesville violence and white supremacist terror attack
The promises and pitfalls of the gene editing technique known as CRISPR
“President Trump built his reputation with tough talk and harsh condemnations of people who earn his disapproval. That he refused to offer those things on Saturday is no accident. It’s no surprise, either.”
Yep: “Charlottesville is why I’m glad I don’t support Trump”
“You can have the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, or you can have your ridiculous race cult.”
“As things stand today, we face a darkening political future, potentially greater loss of life, and a degree of polarization that makes 2016 look like a time of national unity. Presidents aren’t all-powerful, but they can either help or hurt.”
Yes, thank you: “Instead of dumbing down Shakespeare, smarten up the kids”