Culture – Language – The Arts

The Internet-Media-Academic Complex vs. Real Life

I spend an inordinate share of my time at my PC. (Unlike smart-phone and tablet users, I prefer to be seated in a comfortable desk chair, viewing a full-size screen, and typing on a real keyboard.) When I’m not composing a blog post or playing spider solitaire, I’m reading items from several dozen RSS feeds.

My view of the world is shaped, for the worse, by what I read. If it’s not about leftist cant and scientific fraud, it’s about political warfare on many levels. But my view of the world is more sanguine when I reflect on real life as I experience it when I’m away from my PC.

When the subject isn’t politics, and the politics of the other person are hidden from view, I experience a world of politeness, competence (even unto excellence), and intelligence. Most of the people in that world are owners of small businesses, their employees, and the employees of larger businesses.

In almost every case, their attitude of friendliness is sincere — and I’ve been around the block enough tines to spot insincerity. There’s an innate goodness in most people, regardless of their political views, that comes out when you’re interacting with them as a “real” human being.

The exception to the rule, in my experience, is the highly educated analyst or academic — regardless of political outlook — who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. And it shows in his abrupt, superior attitude toward others, especially if they are strangers whom he is unlikely to encounter again.

The moral of the story: If government were far less powerful, and if it were kept that way, the political noise level would be much reduced and the world would be a far more pleasant place.

Thoughts for the Day

Excerpts of recent correspondence.

Robots, and their functional equivalents in specialized AI systems, can either replace people or make people more productive. I suspect that the latter has been true in the realm of medicine — so far, at least. But I have seen reportage of robotic units that are beginning to perform routine, low-level work in hospitals. So, as usual, the first people to be replaced will be those with rudimentary skills, not highly specialized training. Will it go on from there? Maybe, but the crystal ball is as cloudy as an old-time London fog.

In any event, I don’t believe that automation is inherently a job-killer. The real job-killer consists of government programs that subsidize non-work — early retirement under Social Security, food stamps and other forms of welfare, etc. Automation has been in progress for eons, and with a vengeance since the second industrial revolution. But, on balance, it hasn’t killed jobs. It just pushes people toward new and different jobs that fit the skills they have to offer. I expect nothing different in the future, barring government programs aimed at subsidizing the “victims” of technological displacement.

*      *      *

It’s civil war by other means (so far): David Wasserman, “Purple America Has All but Disappeared” (The New York Times, March 8, 2017).

*      *      *

I know that most of what I write (even the non-political stuff) has a combative edge, and that I’m therefore unlikely to persuade people who disagree with me. I do it my way for two reasons. First, I’m too old to change my ways, and I’m not going to try. Second, in a world that’s seemingly dominated by left-wing ideas, it’s just plain fun to attack them. If what I write happens to help someone else fight the war on leftism — or if it happens to make a young person re-think a mindless commitment to leftism — that’s a plus.

*     *     *

I am pessimistic about the likelihood of cultural renewal in America. The populace is too deeply saturated with left-wing propaganda, which is injected from kindergarten through graduate school, with constant reinforcement via the media and popular culture. There are broad swaths of people — especially in low-income brackets — whose lives revolve around mindless escape from the mundane via drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, etc. Broad swaths of the educated classes have abandoned erudition and contemplation and taken up gadgets and entertainment.

The only hope for conservatives is to build their own “bubbles,” like those of effete liberals, and live within them. Even that will prove difficult as long as government (especially the Supreme Court) persists in storming the ramparts in the name of “equality” and “self-creation.”

*     *     *

I correlated Austin’s average temperatures in February and August. Here are the correlation coefficients for following periods:

1854-2016 = 0.001
1875-2016 = -0.007
1900-2016 = 0.178
1925-2016 = 0.161
1950-2016 = 0.191
1975-2016 = 0.126

Of these correlations, only the one for 1900-2016 is statistically significant at the 0.05 level (less than a 5-percent chance of a random relationship). The correlations for 1925-2016 and 1950-2016 are fairly robust, and almost significant at the 0.05 level. The relationship for 1975-2016 is statistically insignificant. I conclude that there’s a positive relationship between February and August temperatures, but weak one. A warm winter doesn’t necessarily presage an extra-hot summer in Austin.

The Age of Noise

Aldous Huxley says this in The Perennial Philosophy:

The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise and noise of desire — we hold history’s record for all of them. And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence. That most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio, is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the ear-drums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions – news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas. And where, as in most countries, the broadcasting stations support themselves by selling time to advertisers, the noise is carried from the ears, through the realms of phantasy, knowledge and feeling to the ego’s central core of wish and desire.

Mr. Huxley would hate the twenty-first century. The noise is beyond deafening. And it’s everywhere: beeping cell phones; loud one-sided conversations into cell phones; talking automobiles; ear-shattering “music” blasting from nearby automobiles, stadium loudspeakers, computers, TVs, and (yes) radios; screeching MoTown (or whatever it’s now called) blasting away in grocery stores (at the request of employees, I suspect); movie soundtracks worthy of the Siege of Stalingrad; and on and on.

I’m glad that my hearing aids have a “mute” function. When engaged, it takes the sharp edges off the knives of sound that assail me whenever I venture into the outside world.

Sound has become a substitute for the absorption and processing of information, that is, for thought. The decades-long crescendo in the West’s sound track lends support to Richard Lynn’s hypothesis that intelligence is on the decline.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Flow
In Praise of Solitude
There’s Always Solitude
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness

Retrospective Virtue-Signalling

I’ve become fond of “virtue-signalling” — the phrase, that is, not the hypocritical act itself, which is

the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily to enhance [his] standing within a social group.

A minor act of virtue-signalling is the grammatically incorrect use of “their” (a plural pronoun), to avoid the traditional “his” (sexist!) or the also correct but awkward “his or her.” That’s why you see “[his]” in the quotation, which replaces the abominable “their.”

Anyway, virtue-signalling is almost exclusively a left-wing phenomenon. And it often takes more acidic forms than the prissy use of “their” to avoid an imaginary lapse into sexism. For example:

An aging, has-been singer shrieks her fantasy of blowing up the White House. Later, she walks it back, saying she was quoted “out of context,” though her words are perfectly clear….

A multimillionaire actress/talk show host not only pretends to believe that Republicans want to return her race to picking cotton, but now wonders aloud just how different we Trump voters are from the Taliban…..

…These awards shows now look more like Comintern speeches with competition to see which androgynous little wussie-pants can sound more macho encouraging “fighting” in the streets, “punching people in the face,” or “Resistance” to frenzied applause from the gathered trained seals. Remember, guys, in a real fight that’s not choreographed there are no stuntmen.

But perhaps the nastiest attacks of all have been on Trump’s family. There were the horrible Tweets about his blameless young son. There were the charming “rape Melania” banners, so odious I thought for sure they had to be photoshopped. They were not. There is an alleged comedienne I had never heard of named Chelsea Handler who announced apropos of nothing that she won’t have Melania on her talk show because “she can’t speak English well enough to be understood.”…

So this is the genius who won’t interview Melania, who speaks five languages. I hope our elegant First Lady can recover from the snub. None of these Mean Girls of any gender would dream of criticizing a Spanish speaker trying to speak English, or correct a black person who said “axe” for “ask” (something I believe they do just to be annoying…). But a beautiful immigrant woman whose English is not perfect deserves mocking. Because liberals are so nice. Virtuous, even. Not Taliban-y at all.

My strongest scorn is reserved for the hordes that have decided to change the names of streets and buildings, to tear down statues, and to remove paintings from public view because the persons thus named or depicted are heroes of the past who committed acts that leftists must deplore — or risk being targeted by other left-wing virtue-signalers.

Retrospective virtue-signalling has been going on for several years now. I’m not sure, but I think it blossomed into an epidemic in the aftermath of the despicable shooting of blacks at a prayer meeting in a Charleston church. A belated example is the recent 3-2 vote by the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia, to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park.

What can such actions accomplish other than raising the level of smugness of their perpetrators? If they have any effect on racism in the United States, it’s probably to raise its level, too. If I were a racist, I’d be outraged by the cumulative effect of such actions, of which there have been dozens or hundreds in recent years. I’d certainly be a more committed racist than I was before, just as a matter of psychological self-defense.

But such things don’t matter to virtue-signalers. It’s all a matter of reinforcing their feelings of superiority and flaunting their membership in the left-wing goody-two-shoes club — the club that proudly boasts of wanting to “blow up the White House” and “rape Melania.”

And the post-election riots prove that the club has some members who are more than prissy, armchair radicals. They’re the same kind of people who used to wear brown shirts and beat up Jews.

A Nation of Immigrants, a Nation of Enemies

I’m sick and tired of hearing that the United States is a nation of immigrants. So what if the United States is a nation of immigrants? The real issue is whether immigrants wish to become Americans in spirit, not in name only — loyal to the libertarian principles of the Constitution or cynical abusers of it.

I understand and sympathize with the urge to live among people with whom one shares a religion, a language, and customs. Tribalism is a deeply ingrained trait. It is not necessarily a precursor to aggression, contrary to the not-so-subtle message (aimed at white Americans) of the UN propaganda film that I was subjected to in high school. And the kind of tribalism found in many American locales, from the barrios of Los Angeles to the disappearing German communities of Texas to the Orthodox Jewish enclaves of New York City, is harmless compared with  Reconquista and Sharia.

Proponents of such creeds don’t want to become Americans whose allegiance is to the liberty promised by the Constitution. They are cynical abusers of that liberty, whose insidious rhetoric is evidence against free-speech absolutism.

But they are far from the only abusers of that liberty. It is unnecessary to import enemies when there is an ample supply of them among native-born Americans. Well, they are Americans in name because they were born in the United States and (in most cases) haven’t formally renounced their allegiance to the Constitution. But they are its enemies, no matter how cleverly they twist its meaning to support their anti-libertarian creed.

I am speaking of the left, of course. Lest we forget, the real threat to liberty in America is home-grown. The left’s recent hysterical hypocrisy leads me to renounce my naive vow to be a kinder, gentler critic of the left’s subversive words and deeds.

*     *     *

Related posts:
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Tolerance
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
Thinkers vs. Doers
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Another Look at Political Labels
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
Social Justice vs. Liberty
My Platform
Polarization and De-facto Partition
How America Has Changed
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
Politics, Personality, and Hope for a New Era

A Non-Tribute to Fidel

The death of Fidel Castro, which came 90 years too late for the suffering people of Cuba, rates a musical celebration. Here are links to some snappy tunes of the 1920s and 1930s that have “Cuba” or “Cuban” in the title (RealPlayer required):

http://www.redhotjazz.com/songs/whiteman/cubanlovesong.ra

http://www.redhotjazz.com/Songs/hickman/cubanmoon.ra

http://www.redhotjazz.com/songs/lewis/illseeyouincuba.ra

http://www.redhotjazz.com/Songs/Louie/lao/Cubanpete.ra

H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy

I used to think of H.L. Mencken as a supremely witty person. My intellectual infatuation began with his Chrestomathy, which I read with relish many years ago.

In recent decades my infatuation with Mencken’s acerbic wit dimmed and died, for the reason given by Fred Siegel in The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. There, Siegel rightly observes that Mencken “learned from [George Bernard] Shaw how to be narrow-minded in a witty, superior way.”

I was reminded of that passage by Peter Berger’s recent account of Mencken’s role in the marginalization of Evangelicals:

The Evangelical sense of marginalization can be conveniently dated—1925. Until then Evangelical Protestantism was at the core of American culture. Think of the role it played in the anti-slavery and temperance movements. Between 1910 and 1915 a series of four books was published under the title The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. The term “fundamentalism” derives from this title—today a pejorative term applied to all kinds of religious extremes. The aforementioned books were hardly extreme. They came out of the heart of mainline Protestantism, which today would be called Evangelical. Many of the authors were orthodox Presbyterians, then-centered at Princeton Theological Seminary, which in the 1920s split into an orthodox Calvinist and a “modernist” faculty. What happened in 1925 was a watershed in the history of American Evangelicalism—the so-called “monkey trial.”

Under the influence of a conservative Protestant/Evangelical lobby the state of Tennessee passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. John Scopes, a school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was charged with having violated the law. The trial turned into a celebrity event. William Jennings Bryan, former presidential candidate and prominent Evangelical leader, volunteered to act for the prosecution, and the famous trial lawyer Clarence Darrow defended Scopes. The trial had virtually nothing to do with the offence in question (which was not in doubt). Bryan used it to defend his literal understanding of the Bible, Darrow to make Bryan ridiculous. In this he succeeded, reducing Bryan to petulant babbling. Both men were propagandists for two forms of “fundamentalism,” a primitive view of the Bible against a primitive view of science. Unfortunately for Bryan’s reputation, the brilliant satirist H.L. Mencken covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun. His account was widely reprinted and read. He was contemptuous not only of Bryan but of Christianity and of the local people (he called them “yokels”). The event had an enormous effect on American Evangelicals. It demoralized them, making them feel marginalized in a hostile environment. The result was an Evangelical subculture, turned inward and defensive in its relation to the outside society. Mark Noll sums this up in the title of one of his books, The Closing of the Evangelical Mind. [“Religion, Class, and the Evangelical Vote,” The American Interest, November 23, 2016]

I would have to read and consider Noll’s book before I sign on to Berger’s claim that it was Mencken’s account of the “monkey trial” which demoralized and marginalized Evangelicals. But it didn’t help, and it ushered in 90 years of Mencken-like portrayals of Evangelicals and, more generally, of the mid-to-low-income whites who populate much of what’s referred to sneeringly as flyover country. As Berger observes,

During the 2008 campaign Obama slipped out this description of people in economically deprived small towns: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” And during the just-concluded presidential campaign Clinton described Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables.”

Is it any surprise that Trump — who appealed strongly to the kinds of people disparaged by Mencken, Obama, and Clinton — carried these States?

  • Florida — won by Obama in 2008 and 2012
  • Pennsylvania — the first time for a GOP presidential candidate since 1988
  • Ohio — won by Obama in 2008 and 2012
  • Michigan — the first GOP presidential win since 1988
  • Wisconsin — last won by a GOP candidate in 1984
  • Iowa — won by the Democrat presidential candidate in every election (but one) since 1984.

And how did Trump do it? Mainly by running strongly in the areas outside big cities. It’s true that Clinton outpolled Trump nationally, but so what? It’s the electoral vote that matters, and that’s what the candidates strive to win. Trump won it on the strength of his appeal to the descendants of Mencken’s yokels: Obama’s gun-clingers and Clinton’s deplorables.

A digression about election statistics is in order:

Based on total popular votes cast, 2016 surpasses all previous elections by more than 5 million votes (they’re still being counted in some places). Trump now holds the record for the most votes cast for a GOP presidential candidate. Clinton, however, probably won’t match Obama’s 2012 total, and certainly won’t match his 2008 total (the size of which testifies to the gullibility of a large fraction of the electorate).

Did the big turnout for Gary Johnson (pseudo-libertarian) and the somewhat-better-than 2012 turnout for Jill Stein (socialist crank) take votes that “should have been” Clinton’s? Obviously not. Those who cast their ballots for Johnson and Stein were, by definition, voting against Clinton (and Trump).

But what if Johnson and Stein hadn’t been on the ballot and some of the votes that went them had gone instead to Clinton and Trump? My analyses of several polls leads me to the conclusion that the presence of Johnson and Stein hurt Trump more than Clinton. Johnson voters would have defected to Trump more often than to Clinton. Stein voters would have defected to Clinton more often than to Trump. On balance, because there were three times as many Johnson voters as Stein voters, Trump (not Clinton) would have done better if the election had been a two-person race. Moreover, Trump improved slightly on recent GOP showings among blacks and Hispanics.

What about Clinton’s popular-vote “victory”? As of today (11/24/16) she’s running ahead of Trump by 2.1 million votes nationally, and by 3.8 million votes in California and 1.5 million votes in New York. That leaves Trump ahead of Clinton by 3.2 million votes in the other 48 States and D.C. I could go on about D.C. and the Northeast in general, but you get the idea. Clinton’s “appeal” (for want of a better word) was narrow; Trump’s was much broader (e.g., winning a higher percentage than Romney did of the two-party vote in 39 States). Arguably, it was broader than that of every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan won a second term in 1984.

The election of 2016 probably rang down the final curtain on the New Deal alliance of white Southerners (long-since defected), union members (a dying breed), and other denizens of the mid-to-low-income brackets. The alliance was built on the illusory success  of FDR’s New Deal, which prolonged the Great Depression by several years. But FDR, his henchmen, his sycophants in the media and academe, and those tens of millions who were gulled by him didn’t know that. And so the Democrat Party became the majority party for the most of final eight decades of the 20th century, and has enjoyed periods of resurgence in the 21st century.

The modern Democrat Party — the one that arose in the 1950s with Adlai Stevenson at its helm — long held the allegiance of the yokels, even as it was betraying them by buying the votes of blacks and Hispanics and trolling for the votes of marginal groups (queers, Muslims, and “liberal arts” majors) in order to wear the mantle of moral superiority. The yokels were taken for granted. Worse than that, they were openly disdained in Menckian language.

Trump wisely avoided the Democrat-lite stance of recent GOP candidates — the two Bushes, McCain, and Romney (Dole was simply a ballot-filler) — and went after the modern descendants of the yokels. And in response to that unaccustomed attention, huge numbers of mid-to-low-income voters  — joined by those traditional Republicans who wisely refused to abandon Trump — produced a stunning electoral upset that encompassed most of the country.

As for Mencken, where he is remembered at all it is mainly as a curmudgeonly quipster with views that wouldn’t pass muster among today’s smart set. Though Mencken’s flirtation with anti-Semitism might commend him to the alt-left.

Here, then, is H.L. Mencken’s lasting legacy: There has arisen a huge bloc of voters whose members are through with being ridiculed and ignored by the pseudo-sophisticates who lead and populate the Democrat Party. It is now up to Trump and the Republican Party to retain the allegiance of that bloc. And if they do not, a third party will arise, and — for the first time in American history — it will be a third party with long-lasting clout. Think of it as a more muscular incarnation of the Tea Party, which was its vanguard.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Mike Lee, “Conservatives Should Embrace Principled Populism,” National Review, November 24. 2016
Yuval Levin, “The New Republican Coalition,” National Review, November 17, 2016
Henry Olsen, “For Trump Voters There Is No Left or Right,The Washington Post, November 18, 2016
Fred Reed, “Uniquely Talented: Only the Democrats Could Have Lost to Trump,” Fred on Everything, November 24, 2016 (Published after this post, and eerily similar, in keeping with the adage that great minds think alike.)

*     *      *

Related posts:
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
Winners and Losers
“Fairness”
Pontius Pilate: Modern Politician
Should You Vote for a Third-Party Candidate?
My Platform
How America Has Changed
Civil War?

Words Fail Us

Regular readers of this blog know that I seldom use “us” and “we.” Those words are too often appropriated by writers who say such things as “we the people,” and who characterize as “society” the geopolitical entity known as the United States. There is no such thing as “we the people,” and the United States is about as far from being a “society” as Hillary Clinton is from being president (I hope).

There are nevertheless some things that are so close to being universal that it’s fair to refer to them as characteristics of “us” and “we.” The inadequacy of language is one of those things.

Why is that the case? Try to describe in words a person who is beautiful or handsome to you, and why. It’s hard to do, if not impossible. There’s something about the combination of that person’s features, coloring, expression, etc., that defies anything like a complete description. You may have an image of that person in your mind, and you may know that — to you — the person is beautiful or handsome. But you just can’t capture in words all of those attributes. Why? Because the person’s beauty or handsomeness is a whole thing. It’s everything taken together, including subtle things that nestle in your subconscious mind but don’t readily swim to the surface. One such thing could be the relative size of the person’s upper and lower lips in the context of that particular person’s face; whereas, the same lips on another face might convey plainness or ugliness.

Words are inadequate because they describe one thing at a time — the shape of a nose, the slant of a brow, the prominence of a cheekbone. And the sum of those words isn’t the same thing as your image of the beautiful or handsome person. In fact, the sum of those words may be meaningless to a third party, who can’t begin to translate your words into an image of the person you think of as beautiful or handsome.

Yes, there are (supposedly) general rules about beauty and handsomeness. One of them is the symmetry of a person’s features. But that leaves a lot of ground uncovered. And it focuses on one aspect of a person’s face, rather than all of its aspects, which are what you take into account when you judge a person beautiful or handsome.

And, of course, there are many disagreements about who is beautiful or handsome. It’s a matter of taste. Where does the taste come from? Who knows? I have a theory about why I prefer dark-haired women to women whose hair is blonde, red, or medium-to-light brown: My mother was dark-haired, and photographs of her show that she was beautiful (in my opinion) as a young woman. (Despite that, I never thought of her as beautiful because she was just Mom to me.) You can come up with your own theories — and I expect that no two of them will be the same.

What about facts? Isn’t it possible to put facts into words? Not really, and for much the same reason that it’s impossible to describe beauty, handsomeness, love, hate, or anything “subjective” or “emotional.” Facts, at bottom, are subjective, and sometimes even emotional.

Let’s take a “fact” at random: the color red. We can all agree as to whether something looks red, can’t we? Even putting aside people who are color-blind, the answer is: not necessarily. For one thing red is defined as having a “predominant light wavelength of roughly 620–740 nanometers.” “Predominant” and “roughly” are weasel-words. Clearly, there’s no definite point on the visible spectrum where light changes from orange to red. If you think there is, just look at this chart and tell me where it happens. So red comes in shades, which various people describe variously: orange-red and reddish-orange, for example.

Not only that, but the visible spectrum

does not … contain all the colors that the human eyes and brain can distinguish. Unsaturated colors such as pink, or purple variations such as magenta, are absent, for example, because they can be made only by a mix of multiple wavelengths.

Thus we have magenta, fuchsia, blood-red, scarlet, crimson, vermillion, maroon, ruby, and even the many shades of pink — some are blends, some are represented by narrow segments of the light spectrum. Do all of those kinds of red have a clear definition, or are they defined by the beholder? Well, some may be easy to distinguish from others, but the distinctions between them remain arbitrary. Where does scarlet or magenta become vermillion?

In any event, how do you describe a color (whatever you call it) in words? Referring to its wavelength or composition in terms of other colors or its relation to other colors is no help. Wavelength really is meaningless unless you can show an image of the visible spectrum to someone who perceives colors exactly as you do, and point to red — or what you call red. In doing so, you will have pointed to a range of colors, not to red, because there is no red red and no definite boundary between orange and red (or yellow and orange, or green and yellow, etc.).

Further, you won’t have described red in words. And you can’t — without descending into tautologies — because red (as you visualize it) is what’s in your mind. It’s not an objective fact.

My point is that description isn’t the same as definition. You can define red (however vaguely) as a color which has a predominant light wavelength of roughly 620–740 nanometers. But you can’t describe it. Why? Because red is just a concept.

A concept isn’t a real thing that you can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, eat, drink from, drive, etc. How do you describe a concept? You define it in terms of other concepts.

Moving on from color, I’ll take gross domestic product (GDP) as another example. GDP is an estimate of the dollar value of the output of finished goods and services produced in the United States during a particular period of time. Wow, what a string of concepts. And every one of them must be defined, in turn. Some of them can be illustrated by referring to real things; a haircut is a kind of service, for example. But it’s impossible to describe GDP and its underlying concepts because they’re all abstractions, or representations of indescribable conglomerations of real things.

All right, you say, it’s impossible to describe concepts, but surely it’s possible to describe things. People do it all the time. See that ugly, dark-haired, tall guy standing over there? I’ve already dealt with ugly, indirectly, in my discussion of beauty or handsomeness. Ugliness, like beauty, is just a concept, the idea of which differs from person to person. What about tall? It’s a relative term, isn’t it? You can measure a person’s height, but whether or not you consider him tall depends on where and when you live and the range of heights you’re used to encountering. A person who seems tall to you may not seem tall to your taller brother. Dark-haired will evoke different pictures in different minds — ranging from jet-black to dark brown and even auburn.

But if you point to the guy you call ugly, dark-haired, tall guy, I may agree with you that he’s ugly, dark-haired, and tall. Or I may disagree with you, but gain some understanding of what you mean by ugly, dark-haired, and tall.

And therein lies the tale of how people are able to communicate with each other, despite their inability to describe concepts or to define them without going in endless circles and chains of definitions. First, human beings possess central nervous systems and sensory organs that are much alike, though within a wide range of variations (e.g., many people must wear glasses with an almost-infinite variety of corrections, hearing aids are programmed to an almost-infinite variety of settings, sensitivity to touch varies widely, reaction times vary widely). Nevertheless, most people seem to perceive the same color when light with a wavelength of, say, 700 nanometers strikes the retina. The same goes for sounds, tastes, smells, etc., as various external stimuli are detected by various receptors. Those perceptions then acquire agreed definitions through acculturation. For example, an object that reflects light with a wavelength of 700 nanometers becomes known as red; a sound with a certain frequency becomes known as middle C; a certain taste is characterized as bitter, sweet, or sour.

Objects acquire names in the same way: for example: a square piece of cloth that’s wrapped around a person’s head or neck becomes a bandana, and a longish, curved, yellow-skinned fruit with a soft interior becomes a banana. And so I can visualize a woman wearing a red bandana and eating a banana.

There is less agreement about “soft” concepts (e.g., beauty) because they’re based not just on “hard” facts (e.g., the wavelength of light), but on judgments that vary from person to person. A face that’s cute to one person may be beautiful to another person, but there’s no rigorous division between cute and beautiful. Both convey a sense of physical attractiveness that many persons will agree upon, but which won’t yield a consistent image. A very large percentage of Caucasian males (of a certain age) would agree that Ingrid Bergman and Hedy Lamarr were beautiful, but there’s nothing like a consensus about Katharine Hepburn (perhaps striking but not beautiful) or Jean Arthur (perhaps cute but not beautiful).

Other concepts, like GDP, acquire seemingly rigorous definitions, but they’re based on strings of seemingly rigorous definitions, the underpinnings of which may be as squishy as the flesh of a banana (e.g., the omission of housework and the effects of pollution from GDP). So if you’re familiar with the definitions of the definitions, you have a good grasp of the concepts. If you aren’t, you don’t. But if you have a good grasp of the numbers underlying the definitions of definitions, you know that the top-level concept is actually vague and hard to pin down. The numbers not only omit important things but are only estimates, and often are estimates of disparate things that are grouped because they’re judged to “alike enough.”

Acculturation in the form of education is a way of getting people to grasp concepts that have widely agreed definitions. Mathematics, for example, is nothing but concepts, all the way down. And to venture beyond arithmetic is to venture into a world of ideas that’s held together by definitions that rest upon definitions and end in nothing real. Unless you’re one of those people who insists that mathematics is the “real” stuff of which the universe is made, which is nothing more than a leap of faith. (Math, by the way, is nothing but words in shorthand.)

And so, human beings are able to communicate and (usually) understand each other because of their physical and cultural similarities, which include education in various and sundry subjects. Those similarities also enable people of different cultures and languages to translate their concepts (and the words that define them) from one language to another.

Those similarities also enable people to “feel” what another person is feeling when he says that he’s happy, sad, drunk, or whatever. There’s the physical similarity — the physiological changes that usually occur when a person becomes what he thinks of as happy, etc. And there’s acculturation — the acquired knowledge that people feel happy (or whatever) for certain reasons (e.g., a marriage, the birth of a child) and display their happiness in certain ways (e.g., a broad smile, a “jump for joy”).

A good novelist, in my view, is one who knows how to use words that evoke vivid mental images of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of characters, and the settings in which the characters act out the plot of a novel. A novelist who can do that and also tell a good story — one with an engaging or suspenseful plot — is thereby a great novelist. I submit that a good or great novelist (an admittedly vague concept) is worth almost any number of psychologists and psychiatrists, whose vision of the human mind is too rigid to grasp the subtleties that give it life.

But good and great novelists are thin on the ground. That is to say, there are relatively few persons among us who are able to grasp and communicate effectively a broad range of the kinds of thoughts and feelings that lurk in the minds of human beings. And even those few have their blind spots. Most of them, it seems to me, are persons of the left, and are therefore unable to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of the working-class people who seethe with resentment about fawning over and favoritism toward blacks, illegal immigrants, gender-confused persons, and other so-called victims. In fact, those few otherwise perceptive and articulate writers make it a point to write off the working-class people as racists, bigots, and ignoramuses.

There are exceptions, of course. A contemporary exception is Tom Wolfe. But his approach to class issues is top-down rather than bottom-up.

Which just underscores my point that we human beings find it hard to formulate and organize our own thoughts and feelings about the world around us and the other people in it. And we’re practically tongue-tied when it comes to expressing those thoughts and feelings to others. We just don’t know ourselves well enough to explain ourselves to others. And our feelings — such as our political preferences, which probably are based more on temperament than on facts — get in the way.

Love, to take a leading example, is a feeling that just is. The why and wherefore of it is beyond our ability to understand and explain. Some of the feelings attached to it can be expressed in prose, poetry, and song, but those are superficial expressions that don’t capture the depth of love and why it exists.

The world of science is of no real help. Even if feelings of love could be expressed in scientific terms — the action of hormone A on brain region X — that would be worse than useless. It would reduce love to chemistry, when we know that there’s more to it than that. Why, for example, is hormone A activated by the presence or thought of person M but not person N, even when they’re identical twins?

The world of science is of no real help about “getting to the bottom of things.” Science is an infinite regress. S is explained in terms of T, which is explained in terms of U, which is explained in terms of V, and on and on. For example, there was the “indivisible” atom, which turned out to consist of electrons, protons, and neutrons. But electrons have turned out to be more complicated than originally believed, and protons and neutrons have been found to be made of smaller particles with distinctive characteristics. So it’s reasonable to ask if all of the particles now considered elementary are really indivisible. Perhaps there other more-elementary particles yet to be hypothesized and discovered. And even if all of the truly elementary particles are discovered, scientists will still be unable to explain what those particles really “are.”

Words fail us.

*      *      *

Related reading:
Modeling Is Not Science
Physics Envy
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Pinker Commits Scientism
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
“Settled Science” and the Monty Hall Problem
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Some Thoughts about Probability
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
My War on the Misuse of Probability
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
Is Science Self-Correcting?
“Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings”
Taleb’s Ruinous Rhetoric

How America Has Changed

I believe that the morals and the mores of a populace change observably over time. That’s certainly true of Americans, even if it isn’t true of, say, many tribal peoples of distant lands. This post takes a look at how American morals and mores have changed, generally for the worse, in my lifetime.

I am an American of humble birth, with a lower-middle-class to upper-lower-class upbringing in the Upper Midwest. I’m a graduate of a huge, tax-funded university more known for its sports teams than its scholarly attainments. And I’m a person who was never fully enveloped by the bubble of elitism, even though I spent forty years living among and working with highly educated and affluent elites. (See my “About” page for more of the gory details.)

And what do I see when I look out at the America of today? It’s an America where so many collegians can’t bear to hear or read ideas unpalatable to their tender minds; where those same collegians require days of mourning to recover from the unexpected electoral victory of Donald J. Trump; where liberal elites generally view Trump’s victory as a sign that ignorant, uneducated, racist whites have conquered the country; and where many of those same liberals who had promised to leave the U.S.A. if Trump were elected but are, unfortunately for the U.S.A., reneging on their promises.

What I see are a lot of people who should be transported back to the lower-middle-class and upper-lower-class environs of the Upper Midwest of the 1940s and 1950s, where they might just learn how to face the realities of life.

POLITICS

Politics wasn’t a preoccupation in the bad old days because relatively little was expected (or wanted) from government. There was Social Security, State unemployment benefits, and workers’ comp — all of which relied heavily on taxes and “contributions” — and that was about it. I guess there were some welfare payments for the truly indigent, but there weren’t extended unemployment benefits, State and federal subsidies to keep students in college and out of the work force, low-income tax credits, low-income housing subsidies, etc., etc., etc. But those are all loose change compared with the real budget-busters: Medicare, Medicaid, and their vast expansion under Obamacare.

And despite having a much smaller government and a few recessions, the rate of economic growth then was higher than it is today.

Moral: Less government means less political strife — and greater prosperity, to boot.

RELIGION

Almost everyone belonged to one, but few people made a big deal of it. Now, it’s de rigeur to belong to the Church of Redistributionism, Alarmism & Pseud-science (CRAP) — and a big deal if someone doesn’t belong. Religion hasn’t withered away, it’s just taken a new and more virulent form.

It used to be accepted that government wasn’t in the business of establishing or suppressing religion — and only a few woolly-haired progenitors of political correctness thought that a Christmas display on government property was an establishment of religion. Now, government is expected to force the doctrines of CRAP down everyone’s throats. That’s “progress” for you.

What’s worse is that the “progressives” who are doing the shoving don’t understand the resentment that it causes, some of which bubbled to the surface on November 8.

BULLYING (OR, THE RISK OF LIVING)

Bullying was common and accepted as a fact of life. The smart, skinny kid who wore glasses (that was me) could expect taunts and shoving from the bigger, dumber kids. And he might sometimes fight back, successfully or not, or he might devise avoidance tactics and thereby learn valuable lessons about getting through life despite its unpleasant aspects. But unless the bullying became downright persistent and turned into injurious violence, he didn’t run to Mama or the principal. And if he did, Mama or the principal would actually do something about the bullying and not cringe in fear of offending the bully or his parents because the bully was a “disadvantaged” (i.e., stupid) lout.

Bullying, in other words, was nothing new and nothing worth mounting a national campaign against. People dealt with it personally, locally, and usually successfully. And bully-ees (as I was occasionally) learned valuable lessons about (a) how to cope with the stuff life throws at you and (b) how to get along in life without having a government program to fall back on.

Life is a risk. People used to understand that. Too many of them no longer do. And worse, they expect others to carry the burden of risk for them. I’ve got enough problems of my own, I don’t need yours as well.

CLIQUES

People of similar backgrounds (religion, neighborhood, income) and tastes (sports, cars, music) tend to hang out together. True then, true now, true forever — though now (and perhaps forever) the biggest clique seems to be defined by adherence to CRAP (or lack thereof).

Aside from cliques consisting of bullies, cliques used to leave each other alone. (I’m talking about cliques, not gangs, which were less prevalent and less violent then than now.) But the CRAP clique won’t leave anyone alone, and uses government to bully non-members.

Irony: The very people who complain loudest about bullying are themselves bullies. But they don’t have the guts to do it personally. Instead, they use government — the biggest bully of all.

SEXISM

There was lots of it, but it was confined mainly to members of the male preference. (I’m kidding about “preference”; males were just males and didn’t think of themselves as having a preference, orientation, or birth-assignment. The same went for females.) And it was based on evolved norms about the roles and abilities of men and women — norms that were still evolving and would have evolved to something like those now prevalent, but with less acrimony, had the forces of forced change not evolved into CRAP.

Women probably comprised half the student body at Big-Ten U where I was a collegian. That was a big change from the quaint days of the 1920s (only thirty years earlier), when female students were still such a rarity (outside female-only colleges) that they were disparagingly called co-eds. Nationally, the male-female ratio hit 50-50 in the late 1970s and continues to shift in favor of women.

There’s plenty of evidence that women are different from men, in the brain and non-genital parts of the body, I mean. So disparities in emotional balance, abstract thinking, mechanical aptitude, size, running speed, and strength — and thus in career choices and accomplishments — will surprise and offend no one who isn’t an adherent of CRAP.

The biggest sexists of all are feminazis and the male eunuchs who worship at their feet. Together, they are turning the armed forces into day-care centers and police forces into enforcers of political correctness — and both into under-muscled remnants of institutions that were once respected and feared by wrong-doers.

RACISM

There was plenty of that, too, and there still is. The funny thing is that the adherents of CRAP expect there to be a lot less of it. Further, they expect to reduce its prevalence among whites by constantly reminding them that they’re racist trash. And what does that get you? More votes for Donald Trump, who — whatever his faults — doesn’t talk like that.

Racism, like sexism, would be a lot less prevalent if the CRAPers could leave well enough alone and let people figure out how to live in harmony despite their differences.

Living in harmony doesn’t mean being best buddies with the persons of every skin tone and sexual preference, as TV commercials and shows are wont to suggest. People are inherently tribal, and the biggest tribes of all are races, which really exist, all CRAP aside. Racial differences, like gender differences, underlie real differences in intelligence and, therefore, in proneness to violence. They also betoken deep-seated cultural differences that can’t be overlooked, unless you happen to have a weird preference for rap music.

It used to be that people understood such things because they saw life in the raw. But the CRAPers — who are the true exemplars of cosseted white privilege — haven’t a clue. In their worldview, where the mind is a blank slate and behavior is nothing more than the residue of acculturation, racism is an incomprehensible phenomenon, something that simply shouldn’t exist. Unless it’s the racism of blacks toward whites, of course.

COLLEGE EDUCATION

It was for the brightest — those who were most likely to use it to advance science, technology, the world of commerce, and so on. It wasn’t for everyone. In fact, when I went to college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were already too many dumb students there.

The push to get more and more dumb people into college is rationalized, in large part, by the correlation between income and level of education. But level of education used to be a sign of drive and intelligence, which are the very things that strongly determine one’s income. Now, level of education is too often a sign that an unqualified person has been pushed into college.

Pushing more and more people into college, which necessarily means taxing productive persons to subsidize the educations of dumber and dumber people, accomplishes several things, all of them bad:

  • There are fewer workers who could be doing something remunerative but not demanding of high intelligence (e.g., plumbing), but who instead are qualified only to do nothing more than the kind of work they could have done without going to college (e.g., waiting on tables and flipping burgers).
  • Which means that they’ve ended up driving down the wages of people who didn’t go to college.
  • And which also means that the tax dollars wasted on subsidizing their useless college educations could have been spent instead on investments in business creation and expansion that would have created more jobs and higher incomes for all.

PROTESTS

These began in earnest in the late 1950s. What they were meant to accomplish in those days — usually the end of legal segregation and voter suppression — were worthy objectives.

Then came the hairy, unkempt, undignified, and sometimes violent protests of the late 1960s. These set the tone for most of what followed. Nothing is too trivial to protest nowadays. To protest everything is to protest nothing.

What protesting usually accomplishes now is inconvenience to people who are simply trying to get from point A to point B, the diversion of police from real police work, the diversion of tax dollars to trash pickup, and filler for TV newscasts.

Oh, yes, it also fills protestors with a feeling of smug superiority. And if they’re of the right color (dark) or the right political persuasion (left), they’re allowed to wreak some havoc, which gives them a perverted sense of accomplishment. And radical-chic CRAPers love it.

Bring back the riot act.

As for those performers who can’t resist the urge to display their CRAP credentials, and who therefore insist on conveying their puerile (and usually hypocritical) views about social, racial, environmental, and other trendy kinds of “justice,” I’m with Laura Ingraham.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Especially 1963: The Year Zero (and the articles and posts linked to therein), and also
What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
Here We Go Again
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
My Platform
Polarization and De Facto Partition (many more related posts are listed at the end of this one)

The Trump Tape

You know the one I mean, and you know what Trump says on it. So I won’t link to it or quote it. What I will do is ask (and try to answer) the crucial question: What happens now?

Specifically, is Trump a goner? Well, there’s evidence that he was already a goner. So what happens now is that a lot of people who were planning to vote for Trump, or who might have voted for him, will switch to Clinton, Johnson, Stein, or “other” — or they simply won’t bother to vote. As a result, there’ll be a lot fewer down-ballot votes for Republicans in other races. Perhaps not enough to give Democrats control of the House, but perhaps enough to give Democrats control of the Senate.

And therein lies the really bad news. If the Dems can muster 50 senators, they will control the Senate because the VP will be a Democrat. And even if the election ends with, say, 52 Republicans in the Senate, it won’t be hard for the Democrats to entice two RINOs to move across the aisle.

You know what will happen to the Supreme Court with Hillary in the White House and her party in control of the Senate. That’s the really bad news.

Would it matter if Trump were to withdraw from the race? As I understand the States’ laws about putting names on ballots, Trump’s name would remain at the top of the GOP ticket. But the party could heavily advertise the idea that the electors from each State nominally won by Trump would instead vote for Pence. (The electors couldn’t be forced to do so, but as party loyalists, I expect that most of them would do so.)

Would that stratagem prevent a lot of voters from switching their votes away from Trump or sitting it out? I doubt it. It’s just too damn sophisticated and uncertain And a lot of voters simply won’t want to associate themselves in any way with Trump. It’s psychological thing. And it will weigh heavily, even in the secrecy of the voting booth.

Bottom line: Trump is toast. Hillary wins (unless there’s a bigger counter-scandal in the wings). Democrats have a good shot at taking control of the Senate. The Supreme Court may then continue to violate the Constitution and march Americans more rapidly down the road to serfdom.

Oh, the Horror!

I constructed the following graph with the aid of Advance Title Search at IMDb.

Horror, musical, and comedy films as percentage of total

How would you explain the shifting popularity of the three genres? Here are my thoughts:

The rising popularity of comedies in the 1930s and 1940s can be attributed to the tensions of the Great Depression and World War II. The renewed and rising popularity of comedies in the 1960s to 2010s can be attributed to the rising social tensions of those decades. The relative unpopularity of comedy in the 1950s attests to the “normalcy” of that decade.

There were a few silent “musicals,” but real musicals didn’t arrive on the scene until the late 1920s, so the rise in popularity in the 1930s is unsurprising. The further rise in the 1940s is probably the due to the impetus of World War II, and the need for “light” escape. The decline in the relative popularity of musicals since the 1940s reflects the growing “sophistication” of the populace. Musicals defy belief in ways that comedies and horror films do not. People often crack jokes; horror simply exaggerated the brutal reality of twisted bodies, twisted minds, and the destructiveness of man and nature. But people don’t begin a sentence and then break into song, with the backing of a full orchestra and the accompaniment of choruses and dancers.

What about horror films, the taste for which seems to have risen through the 1980s, dropped in the 1990s, and since resumed its climb? Viewing a horror film is a way of fighting fire with fire: immersing oneself in the phony frights of the screen in order to make the traumas of everyday life seem milder by comparison. The Great Depression was followed in turn by World War II and the Cold War that ended in 1991 (and during which nuclear annihilation seemed a possibility). The Cold War was studded with lesser but controversial wars (Korea, Vietnam), assassinations, social unrest, and oil shortages, to name some of the lowlights of the post-World War II era through 1991. Then came the “peace dividend” of the 1990s: a decade of 1950-ish “normalcy” (compared with what had preceded it). That brief era ended shockingly on September 11, 2001, and it has been followed by wars, seemingly unextinguishable terror, and economic stagnation (punctuated by the worst recession since the Great Depression). So moviegoers resumed their antidotal intake of horror.

Your turn.

Laugh of the Day

Facebook, for me, is a mildly amusing diversion. I have only 39 Facebook “friends,” and I follow only about a third of them. The rest are obligatory friends whose doings don’t interest me.

I strive to make Facebook as unintrusive as possible. To that end, I have long used the F.B. Purity extension for Firefox, which eliminates a lot of clutter and unwanted features. I also use Adblock Plus, though Facebook has found a way to work around it and plops an ad or two in my newsfeed every day.

I’ve just learned that Facebook categorizes the politics of its users. I was amused to find that I’m a Liberal. I guess it’s because of the postings of some of my friends — postings that I usually hide to avoid irritation.  It’s easy to delete the political preference setting, so I did.

And I’ve just come to understand the meaning of the popular abbreviation for Facebook: FB = For the Birds.

Film Fiasco: Mon Oncle Antoine

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD — THOUGH I RECOMMEND THAT YOU AVOID THE FILM REVIEWED HERE.

This is a review of Mon oncle Antoine, a 1971 French-Canadian film. The film is set at Christmastime in a remote village in Quebec, the main adornment of which is the mountainous pile of dirt leavings (or whatever they’re called) at an asbestos mine.

The story starts with Jos Poulin working at the mine. Jos doesn’t like the job, so he quits and goes to work at a logging camp. Jos doesn’t like that job either, so he wanders home.

In the meantime there’s Benoit, a 15 year old who lives with his Uncle Antoine and Aunt Cecile. Antoine and Cecile own the general store, and Antoine is also the local undertaker. Antoine and Cecile employ a clerk named Fernand, who is also the undertaker’s assistant. They also employ a girl of about 15 named Carmen, who lives with them. Her father drops by on payday to collect Carmen’s pay. Carmen seem to be an unhappy person. She and Benoit lust after each other, but nothing comes of it.

Benoit is an altar boy. He drinks from the bottle of communion wine, then he watches the priest do the same thing, so that’s okay.

On Christmas Eve, Jos’s oldest son, Marcel, dies. Jos doesn’t know this because he’s still slogging home from the logging camp. Antoine goes to fetch the body, but he takes Benoit instead of Fernand with him for no discernible reason other than to allow Cecile to play Cougar to Fernand. So she does. And they do.

Antoine and Benoit set out by horse-drawn sleigh to collect Marcel’s body. Although it’s the late 1940s (or the late 1960s, judging by the shortness of Carmen’s dress), Antoine doesn’t seem to have an automobile. But if he had one the main event of the film wouldn’t have happened, and the film would be more pointless than it is.

The main event is this: After arriving at the Poulin house with the pine box for Marcel’s body, Marcel’s mother offers Antoine and Benoit a meal, of which Antoine partakes in a rather crude fashion — grunting and belching all the while. Oh, he’s also drinking from the 1.5 litre bottle of grappa (or something more lethal) that he brought along for the trip. Antoine and Benoit get Marcel’s body into the pine box and onto the back of the sleigh. And off they go, as Antoine continues to chug the bottle of grappa. When Antoine falls asleep (or into a semi-comatose state), Benoit decides to liven things up by stirring the horse into action. Now the thing that I expected to happen does happen. The pine box containing Marcel’s body slides off the back of the sleigh.

Benoit brings the sleigh to a halt about 100 feet from the box. After pounding on Antoine to bring him to half-awakeness, they trudge to the box, which Antoine is unable to budge because his muscles have turned to mush after so many oral doses of grappa. He cries about his wasted life.

Antoine and Benoit return to the store — which, cozily, is also where Antoine, Cecile, Benoit, Carmen, and Fernand live. Benoit, of course, opens the door to Cecile’s boudoir to find Fernand there. Some muttering (but no violence) ensues before Fernand and Benoit set off to retrieve the box. Benoit, amazingly and despite the remarkable event that has just befallen him, can’t remember which of two possible routes to follow back to the box.

Well, it doesn’t matter. Because they eventually arrive back at the Poulin house, sans box, which has somehow transported itself into the Poulin’s parlor. There, the wandering Jos and his family are kneeling around the open box, staring at the dead Marcel. And wondering, no doubt, why the hell they agreed to act in such a pointless film.

But maybe they knew that it would someday be voted the best Canadian film of all time. I’d hate to see the second-best one.

Three Now-Obscure Actors

The 1950s were as dull as they’re made out to be. (Oh, to have them back!) Among the landmarks of that dull decade were three actors who, between them, seemed to appear almost every night on one TV drama or another: Henry Jones (1912-1999), John Newland (1917-2000), and Harry Townes (1914-2001). All three had long acting careers, and Newland was also a producer and director. But you probably can’t put faces with the names. Here they are:

Henry Jones
Henry Jones

 

John Newland
John Newland

 

Harry Townes
Harry Townes

An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare

I published “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare” almost six years ago. I must say that it holds up well. In fact, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s fairly long, and I won’t try to summarize or excerpt it, except to repeat the opening sentence:

This post could be subtitled: “Or, why the left — Democrats and so-called liberals and progressives — enjoy a rhetorical advantage over libertarians and fiscal conservatives.”

In a few words: Leftists have the advantage of saying the kinds of things that people like to hear, especially when it comes to promising “free” stuff and visions of social perfection. There’s a lot more to it than that. Please read the whole thing.

What I didn’t say then, but will say now is that leftists have another advantage: they’re ruthless. Unlike true conservatives (not Trumpsters) and most libertarians, leftists can be ruthless, unto vicious. They pull no punches; they call people names; they skirt the law — and violate it — to get what they want (e.g., Obama’s various “executive actions”); they use the law and the media to go after their ideological opponents; and on and on.

Why the difference between leftists and true conservatives? Leftists want to rearrange the world to fit their idea of perfection. They have it all figured out, and dissent from the master plan will not be tolerated. (This is very Hitleresque and Stalinesque.) Conservatives and libertarians want people to figure out for themselves how to arrange the world within the roomy confines of simple morality (don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.).

If Trump wins in November — a very big “if” — it should be an object lesson to true conservatives and libertarians. Take the gloves off and don brass knuckles. This isn’t a contest for hockey’s Lady Byng Trophy. To change the sports metaphor, we’re in the late rounds of a brutal fight, and well behind on points. It’s time to go for the knockout.

Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension

Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), drawing on his experience as a psychiatrist who worked with prisoners, writes  about “The Gift of Language” in Not With a Bang but a Whimper: The Politics & Culture of Decline:

With a very limited vocabulary, it is impossible to make, or at least to express, important distinctions and to examine any question with conceptual care. My patients often had no words to describe what they were feeling, except in the crudest possible way, with expostulations, exclamations and physical displays of emotion.… Complex narrative and most abstractions were closed to them.

In their dealings with authority, they were at a huge disadvantage – a disaster, since so many of them depended upon various public bureaucracies for so many of their needs, from their housing and health care to their income and the education of their children.…

All this, it seems to me, directly contradicts our era’s ruling orthodoxy about language. According to that orthodoxy, every child, save the severely brain-damaged and those with very rare genetic defects, learns his or her native language with perfect facility, adequate to his needs. He does so because the faculty of language is part of human nature, inscribed in man’s physical being, as it were, and almost independent of environment.…

It follows that no language or dialect is superior to any other and that modes of verbal communication cannot be ranked according to complexity, expressiveness or any other virtue. Thus, attempts to foist alleged grammatical ‘correctness’ on native speakers of an ‘incorrect’ dialect are nothing but the unacknowledged and oppressive exercise of social control – the means by which the elites deprive whole social classes and peoples of self-esteem and keep them in permanent subordination.…

The locus classicus of this way of thinking, at least for laymen such as myself, is Steven Pinker’s book The Language Instinct.…

Pinker nails his colours to the mast at once. His book, he says, ‘will not chide you about proper usage’ because, after all, ‘[l] anguage is a complex, specialised skill which… is qualitatively the same in every individual… Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture,’ and men are as naturally equal in their ability to express themselves as in their ability to stand on two legs. ‘Once you begin to look at language… as a biological adaptation to communicate information,’ Pinker continues, ‘it is no longer as tempting to see language as an insidious shaper of thought.’ Every individual has an equal linguistic capacity to formulate the most complex and refined thoughts. We all have, so to speak, the same tools for thinking. ‘When it comes to linguistic form,’ Pinker says, quoting the anthropologist Edward Sapir, ‘Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.’ To put it another way, ‘linguistic genius is involved every time a child learns his or her mother tongue’.…

Children will learn their native language adequately whatever anyone does, and the attempt to teach them language is fraught with psychological perils. For example, to ‘correct’ the way a child speaks is potentially to give him what used to be called an inferiority complex. Moreover, when schools undertake such correction they risk dividing the child from his parents and social milieu, for he will speak in one way and live in another, creating hostility and possibly rejection all around him. But happily, since every child is a linguistic genius, there is no need to do any such thing. Every child will have the linguistic equipment he needs, merely by virtue of growing older.

I need hardly point out that Pinker doesn’t really believe anything of what he writes, at least if example is stronger evidence of belief than precept. Though artfully sown here and there with a demotic expression to prove that he is himself of the people, his own book is written, not surprisingly, in the kind of English that would please schoolmarms. I doubt very much whether it would have reached its 25th printing had he chosen to write it in the dialect of the slums of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for example, or of rural Louisiana. Even had he chosen to do so, he might have found the writing rather difficult. I should like to see him try to translate a sentence from his book that I have taken at random – ‘The point that the argument misses is that, although natural selection involves incremental steps that enhance functioning, the enhancements do not have to be an existing module’ – into the language of the back streets of Glasgow or Detroit.…

Over and over again, Pinker stresses that children do not learn language by imitation; rather, they learn it because they are biologically predestined to do so.…

It is utterly implausible to suggest that imitation of parents (or other social contacts) has nothing whatever to do with the acquisition of language. I hesitate to mention so obvious a consideration, but Chinese parents tend to have Chinese-speaking children, and Portuguese parents Portuguese-speaking ones. I find it difficult to believe that this is entirely a coincidence and that imitation has nothing to do with it. Moreover, it is a sociological truism that children tend to speak not merely the language but the dialect of their parents.…

The contrast between a felt and lived reality – in this case, Pinker’s need to speak and write standard English because of its superior ability to express complex ideas – and the denial of it, perhaps in order to assert something original and striking, is characteristic of an intellectual climate in which the destruction of moral and social distinctions is proof of the very best intentions.

Pinker’s grammatical latitudinarianism…has the practical effect of encouraging those born in the lower reaches of society to remain there, to enclose them in the mental world of their particular milieu. This is perfectly all right if you also believe that all stations in life are equally good and desirable and that there is nothing to be said for articulate reflection upon human existence. In other words, grammatical latitudinarianism is the natural ideological ally of moral and cultural relativism….

…Everyone, save the handicapped, learns to run without being taught; but no-one runs 100 metres in ten seconds, or even fifteen seconds, without training. It is fatuous to expect that the most complex of human faculties, language, requires no special training to develop it to its highest possible power.

Pinker, whose fatuousness extends to a risible belief that human nature is changing for the better, has contradicted his thesis in “Why Academics Stink at Writing–and How to Fix It,” which is available here in exchange for your name, your job title, the name of your organization, and your e-mail address. How can a person who claims that ‘linguistic genius is involved every time a child learns his or her mother tongue’ turn around and criticize his academic peers for their general lack of linguistic genius? Pinker the linguistic theorist is wrong; Pinker the critic of bloated, impenetrable prose is right,

As Dalrymple suggests, Pinker’s linguistic latitudinarianism gives aid and comfort to the moral and cultural relativists of the left. Almost nothing, it seems, is beneath a leftist’s condescension; if it’s inferior it’s praiseworthy.

This pattern fits my version of Arnold Klng’s three-axis model, in which I characterize the leftist (“progressive”) axis: privileged-underprivileged. As I say in “Another Look at Political Labels,”

Privilege, for Ps [“progressives”], implies that the possessors of certain positive attributes (high intelligence, good looks, high income, access to political power) have come by those things undeservedly, and even at the expense of those who lack them: the underprivileged. Ps believe implicitly in a state of nature wherein everyone would have equal endowments of intelligence, looks, etc., if only it weren’t for “bad luck.” Ps believe it necessary to use the power of government to alleviate (if not eliminate) unequal endowments and to elevate the “victims” of inequality.

The left’s mantra should be “If it’s bad it’s good.”When a leftist praises or defends something, it’s a good sign that it’s substandard in morality or quality.

Quotation of the Day

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), interview August 31, 2005

“God Bless America”

Rick Moran castigates Gerth Kuntzman, a critic of “God Bless America” who objects to it because

[t]he song still embodies great things about America, but also our worst things: self-righteousness, forced piety, earnest self-reverence, foam.

Foam?

Anyway, Moran opines (correctly, in my view) that

Kuntzman’s attack on a great patriotic song embodies the left’s continuing war against normalcy and tradition.

I object to “God Bless America” and other patriotic songs because they no longer reflect America as it is: decadent and dictatorial.

*      *      *

Related post: The Eclipse of “Old America”