Saturday, January 25, 2014

God and Morality

Bad arguments attract bad arguments, with whom they like to mate and proliferate.  The places where Intelligent Design (ID) meets its critics appear to be especially fertile spawning grounds.  At the general level, this is because bad arguments, even when they are made from diametrically opposed points of view, tend to share a frame of reference.  They both make their waves in the shallow end of the pool.  It is more particularly the case with respect to ID and its foes, because both refuse to accept the fundamentally subjective nature of their claims.  Each points out easily that its opponent does not have an ultimate foundation to stand on-- but (to mix my metaphors pretty shamelessly), each fails to see that it has pulled the rug out from under its own feet in the process.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This is Sparta

Orwell remarked in a review of a hard-boiled 1930s crime novel that the book in question was "a daydream appropriate to a totalitarian age."  What he meant was that its characters were all equally debased and the moral distinctions between them as nominal and meaningless as those between Stalin and Hitler.  The novel was a fantasy version of the world around it-- one composed entirely of gangsters.  It was this reality that fed it with imagery and with fodder for self-projection.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Doubt That

Ross Douthat is back with a point he has made before-- the Democrats are attempting to wage war on inequality, but they have done so by galvanizing an upper middle class portion of the community which only vibrates to the tune of populist rhetoric so long as it is directed just over their heads-- toward the superrich. The true economic interests of this class, after all, will not genuinely coincide with an anti-inequality agenda, which would have "to raise taxes and expand transfers" to accomplish its goals, says Douthat in a follow-up.  The Democratic reliance on such voters will ever blunt the real force of the party's populism, he suggests, meaning it will remain the sort of party it was under Clinton, and not a voice for "the more sweeping post-Obama populism than liberals are getting excited about today."  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Don't Read the News

All writers will confirm the titanic and soul-sucking mortifying-ness of rereading one's work, especially a long time after it was written.    To read something by someone else is to see manna fallen from heaven by comparison-- something effortlessly beautiful forged by some distant, disinterested, wholly selfless hands. To read your own stuff, meanwhile, is to see all the contrived clevernesses, the vanity etched in every line.  "Sheer egoism"-- that was Orwell's number one reason as to "Why I Write."  True of all writers-- but we sense it most in our own hand.  I can't tell you how many times I've gone back to some "piquant passage" of mine, some "pungent peroration," say,-- oh so succulent-- only to discover a lot of "asinine assonance"-- usually with a typo to boot.  Philip Roth reports being appalled by how dreadfully "young" he sounds in Portnoy's Complaint.  Gore Vidal said rereading Myra Breckinridge would be an act of masochism.  I relate.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Great Books and the Neocons

"I’ve always been sorry that political conservatives took up the phrase ‘the great conversation’ to mean only the books they approve of." ~ Jonathan Z. Smith

In the second half of the 20th century, a fever gripped America: a fever of cultural insecurity.  As I understand it, the insecurity concerned both our morals and our intellects.  Suddenly, it became quite evident to us that we were neither as good nor as educated as our church-going, Latin-studying forbears and something had to be done about it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Road Trip

The Easterner

“The furnace-brain of a demon king
Sleeps under the Rockies’ insect wing
In columns of water erupt its young
Highways unroll like its fetid tongue
‘Cross plains caked in snow like molted skin
Through states we could only have earned for sin
Through empty fields and belching gas
From rendering plants at every pass
Where they butcher hogs and melt them down
And serve them at each poky town.