Grand Old Introspection



So Trump it is, then. The dismissive chuckling at the prospect of a Trump nomination emanating from the Nate Silvers and Jennifer Rubins of the world, among scores of others, has trailed off into the animated din of those attempting to appraise the strange and–some would say–unfortunate state of political affairs we presently find ourselves in. There does, after all, come a point at which genuflection to fact is the only reasonable course for even the most prescient. While registering my sympathies with the conservative among us–those who are at present engaged in collective hand-wringing over Trump’s bizarrely consistent successes–I here wish to consider what follows from the apparent fact that Trump’s (stated) values and policies are not as asynchronous with the majority of the Republican voting base as initially supposed. That is to say, if Trump has merely set sail atop a previously latent political undercurrent, in addition to supplying more than a little of his own hot wind, then the problem of Trump’s nomination is more sinister, for it is no fluke.

Conservatives, then, must contend with the reality that, to the shame of the Republican party, a candidate of Trump’s caliber–or anti-caliber, as it were–has by popular demand been given a realistic shot at assuming the highest office in the nation. Yes, that same gentleman and scholar who remarked that “You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass” (Esquire, 1991), boasted about his phallic proportions in a presidential debate, pretended to be his own publicist, and defended the notion of lethal attacks on terrorist’s families is seeking to be, among other things, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States. Were it not actually the case, this could easily be the beginning of a good joke. Though I have in past elections grown accustomed to being underwhelmed by the results of the Republican primaries, never before have I been so disinclined to associate myself with the Party. One cannot help but imagine a White House emblazoned–perhaps literally in Trump’s case–with a large, gilded “T”–the perfect realization of what had previously been but a Leftist caricature of the GOP. Unfortunately in Trump’s case, however, no caricature is needed; or, rather, he supplies the necessary material himself. Thus, the GOP can no longer pretend that large swathes of its voting base are not as susceptible to cheap populist rhetoric as their progressive peers.

Though these forces have lain dormant for some time–or have at least been politically outmatched–the bloviating businessman’s puerility has apparently been sufficient to induce their emergence en masse from beneath the feelings of disenfranchisement that have heretofore characterized their apathetic relationship to Republican primaries (c.f., Politico). If an unabashedly fluid opportunist like Trump can best unabashed constitutional conservatives, such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the GOP has no choice but to perform its own autopsy with respect to conservatism. Indeed, Trump’s rise has merely confirmed the lingering suspicions of many that a capital “R” following one’s name cannot reasonably be assumed to indicate one’s solidarity with conservatism.

Though, like many of the best medicines, it terrorizes the tongue, I consider this latter effect to be among the positives of Trump’s electoral success. Trump, though a danger to conservatism, may catalyze a schism–and hence a purification–of the GOP, wherein the conservative wheat is separated from the non-conservative chaff. So long as they are all largely in one place, whether the chaff is blown in or blown out makes little difference.

The criticisms elucidated here should not be taken to indicate a tacit preference for Trump’s chief rival to the throne–the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; for I am here taking her odious duplicity for granted. Indeed, her history of casuistry is an equine corpse I shall leave for others to beat. Despite this, the common assertion that one must vote for Trump in order to avoid the inevitable calamity of an H.R.C. presidency is a difficult sell on at least two counts. First, because it is not at all clear that the erratic Trump is preferable to a largely predictable, if thoroughly duplicitous, Clinton. The claim that Trump is the solution to the disastrous presidency of Barack Obama, or that he is clearly preferable to Clinton (though he may be) is a tiresome one; namely, because it is naïve. From a conservative point of view, declarations of this kind are akin to the insistence that hemlock is clearly preferable to strychnine if taken with a bit of lemon. (This assumes, of course, that virtue–or, at least, a love of its pursuit–ought to be highly prized in a candidate.) However damaging Clinton’s proposed policies may be, we at least know, by and large, what they are; neither we nor Trump know what he will actually do as President, promises of “walls” and “deals” notwithstanding. Though a case can in certain contexts be made for tactical votes (i.e., votes intended primarily to keep a worse candidate from winning), there must be principled limits to such reasoning–limits which, in my opinion, Trump has far exceeded. (For instance, the candidate being voted for must not have vices which match or exceed the severity of those exhibited by his opponent. But I shall leave this aside.)

Second, insofar as the Trump-or-Hillary-ers began making their case long before Trump was the inevitable nominee, they showed themselves to be disingenuous as to their reasons, this lack of candor following from the apparent implication that, rather incredibly, there was not a single candidate among the very large initial field preferable to Trump. By almost any standard, such a notion is, to borrow Aquinas’ line, “repugnant to the intellect.” (That is, unless one’s standard for endorsement is, like Dr. Carson’s, the likelihood of being given a position in a candidate’s future administration.) Whatever the merits for such an argument now (that Trump is the inevitable nominee), it was thoroughly meritless then, and hence difficult to take seriously, especially since many of its purveyors are responsible for forcing the rest of us into this awkward predicament. As the Indian proverb goes: once you have cut off a person’s nose, there is no point giving them a rose to smell. As exemplary practitioners of this exercise in non sequitur, I have in mind such counterfeits as Sarah Palin and Dr. Carson, whose glowing endorsements of Trump are (to me) sufficient to justify their dismissal from any future conservative round-tables.

Assuming, as I am, that a Trump presidency is likely to be inimical to the values maintained by constitutional conservatives, we see exemplified in Trump’s current political success a potential continuation from the election of President Obama of what may be called the paradox of freedom; namely, that a free people is only truly free insofar as they are able to choose that which undermines their freedom. This point is given lucid treatment in Os Guinness’ A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, the thesis of which is that freedom rests on three mutually-dependent legs: “Freedom requires virtue, which in turn requires faith of some sort, which in turn requires freedom. Only so can a free people remain ‘free always.’” If, as I suspect, Dr. Guinness has highlighted a profound insight, what are we to make of a voting public that, when pressed on the importance of virtue or faith in a leader, expends only what little effort it takes to raise its shoulders an inch or two? Though I hesitate to suggest what might be reasonably inferred of a nation of over three-hundred million that pits a Hillary Clinton against a Donald Trump as the two best candidates to don that venerable mantle wrought by the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, Christian Smith, in his 2009 book Lost In Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, does not, summarizing what he takes to be the deeply rooted afflictions in American culture, of which the success of a candidate like Trump is now ostensibly a symptom (see The American Conservative):

In short, if our sociological analysis in this book is correct, the problem is not simply that youth are bad students or that adults are poor teachers. It is that American culture itself seems to be depleted of some important cultural resources that it would pass on to youth if it had them — and yet not just for “moral” but also for identifiable institutional reasons, as repeatedly noted above. In which case, not only emerging adulthood, but American culture itself also has a dark side is well.

This analysis strikes me as apropos. For good or for ill, we do indeed get the leaders we deserve. Dylan’s poetic, if technically trivial, observation in 1964 was that “the times they are a-changin.’” Given that a real-life parody like Trump can even come close to attaining the presidency, I say: “changin’ indeed.” If the real problem is not merely a rogue candidate, but rather a culture throughout which vice and ignorance have metastasized, the work we have before us is great, but not impossible. It is the wearyingly slow but vital work of grassroots evangelism, both political and spiritual. For such ailments, there are no quick fixes, no obvious panaceas for which we might campaign or lobby; nor is there some candidate whose election would constitute a remedy, for the malady is pandemic. In view of the vitriol associated with this election cycle, however, I would not be the least surprised to discover an intimate, if indirect, connection between the beginning of a shift in the current paradigm and a widespread loving of one’s neighbor as oneself.

Be Good for Goodness Sake?

…remind them that this phrase is a line from a Christmas song whose message is that you should be good so that you are rewarded for it on Christmas.

Source: Be Good for Goodness Sake?

Cecile the Lioness

No, not “Cecil”—that unfortunate feline whose death is the recent cause of a global (but undoubtedly faddish) uproar. Cecile, as in Mrs. Cecile Richards—the no less unfortunate president of Planned Parenthood.

This coincidental lexical similarity between the names of two major figures in separate, but heavily reported, current events is in this case more than a mere curiosity, for the apposition serves to illustrate a regrettable reality: a contemporary milieu which—if I may—doesn’t know its head from its ass, morally speaking. Though it is easy to over-generalize in such discussions, there is at least a prima facie truth to the morbidity lurking behind the apparent comedy currently unfolding in the media over the death of Cecil the lion. What is comedic is not the lion’s death, but the resulting overreaction (e.g., here and here); what is morbid is the relative quiet of those same incensed individuals with regard to recent footage (here & here) leaked from discussions with those in the upper echelons of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, which at least appears to show them nonchalantly haggling over the price of aborted fetal body parts. Whether Planned Parenthood is guilty of such allegations is irrelevant to my point; for if they are even possibly guilty, then the case is worthy of our full attention. In any case, if abortion is in most instances but a particular brand of unjustifiable homicide—as it is in my view—then this latest scandal only renders more egregious the moral aberrations which comprise Planned Parenthood’s standard (and advertised) operating procedure. As aptly remarked by Brit Hume, these latest revelations have “parted the veil of antiseptic tidiness” behind which Planned Parenthood has couched its gruesome operation. But the real problem is not the sale of fetal body parts; it is that there are such parts to sell.

That a large segment of the population exhausts itself in paroxysmal fits over the killing of a large, if impressive, cat, yet barely manages to produce a stifled yawn over the killing (and possible sale) of human babies is nothing less than appalling. Jimmy Kimmel, while quite concerned to defend Cecil, has apparently not seen fit to devote any portion of his show to rousing the moral sensibilities of his audience with regard to the cavalier execution of underdeveloped children. Perhaps among his audience there are few such sensibilities left to rouse. I have no special distaste for Mr. Kimmel; I mention him as but one among a large swath of the population whose attitudes appear to confirm Francis Schaffer’s observation that what was unthinkable a short time ago has not only become thinkable, but commonplace.

Likewise, National Geographic, despite being a longtime advocate for the oppressed around the world, aired a regal portrait of male lion “in memory of Cecil” on its Instagram account, complete with an impassioned plea to stop the hunting of endangered animals—an entreaty any true conservationist could easily endorse. But when synchronically juxtaposed with the chorus of crickets surrounding the ongoing scandal at Planned Parenthood, signing a petition to “save the lions” is worse than hollow; it is evidence of a severe disorder among our moral priorities. If “lions are people, too,” perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of what ought to be a trivial truth: that “people are people, too.” To call this epidemic of moral confusion “unfortunate” insofar as it concerns the murder and mutilation of our young is an understatement on the order of calling Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel “nice.”

It is in this vein that I have referred to Mrs. Richards as “unfortunate”: anyone who has convinced herself that an institution offering to screen you for cancer with the left hand and to crush your unborn child into pieces with the right is an important instrument in facilitating the common good is morally debased. Such a person is not to be hated, but pitied. I have no doubts that Planned Parenthood does provide services which are of benefit to various communities. Indeed, Mrs. Richards does not hesitate to remind us of this fact in an article—rife with euphemism of Orwellian proportions—that she penned for The Washington Post, lest we should undergo amnesia amidst all this malicious hullabaloo brought on by “the extremists.” Clearly, however, if abortion is the unjustified killing of a human being—and that is the issue—then there is no other healthcare “service” one may provide such that abortion is rendered morally justifiable. A single abortion is not made acceptable by performing a million successful STD screenings. Even including abortion under the “healthcare” umbrella is a sort of sick joke; for it does little for the health or the care of those aborted.

I wish to make one other point, and that is to register an observation regarding Mrs. Richard’s pejorative use of the term “extremists.” So long as they are willing to put forth an argument, two individuals might civilly disagree over the question of whether unborn humans possess an intrinsic right to life. But if the matter is epistemically unsettled (i.e., we do not know whether unborn humans possess an intrinsic right to life), then it is at least epistemically possible that unborn humans possess a right to life. If it is possible that unborn humans possess a right to life, then it is possible that killing them results in a moral transgression (i.e., it is possible that abortion is murder). In such a case, far from being an “extremist,” the person who maintains that unborn humans possess a right to life chooses the “safe” option; for if he is himself uncertain whether unborn humans possess a right to life, it is clearly preferable in the abstract to choose the option which is least likely to result in a moral transgression.

Moreover, if it is the deceptive methods used to obtain the footage in question that Mrs. Richards considers the criterion of “extremism,” I demur yet again. On the contrary, if a person believes that it is even possible that a moral transgression is taking place in the case of abortion, this is exactly the kind of activity in which he should engage. He should expose the practice for what it is. We laud (and ought to laud) the undercover operations of those involved in liberating women from the sex trade. Likewise, the person who sees abortion as a crime against human individuals has no recourse but to appeal to the moral sensibilities of his peers (if any remain) and to the Almighty. Even if we disagree with the conclusion of such a person, surely we must applaud his motives. Indeed, if an “extremist” is simply a committed abolitionist—someone whose actions reflect a serious commitment to ending the practice of feeding our children to the proverbial lions (or lionesses, as the case may be)—then I count myself among their number.

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In Defense of Old Books

Thomas Hardy

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I have often wondered whether my opinion of the superiority of 19th century literature—and of significantly older literature in general—is in any way objectively justified, rather than simply finding its support in subjective notions of preference or bias. From the moment I began to regard the English language with an interest greater than that required by utility, I wondered at the great metamorphosis that has occurred in what is seemingly such a short period of time. (Being in no way a philologist, I do not know whether the evolution of English conforms to historical patterns and is therefore actually “short.”) Despite the acknowledgment that languages, being arbitrary conventions, must inevitably alter over time, I have still found it difficult to regard the differences between literary epochs as being merely that, and not evidence of some almost moral shift in the quality of what is considered good writing. Once having formed (and retained) a decided affinity for older works, I have since wondered self-critically whether this inclination is due to romantic notions of “the good ol’ days,” or whether it is actually possible for the general quality of literature to now be worse.

In being daily reminded of the chaotic state of the world, our tendency to subconsciously attribute real historical credence to fictitious renderings of past decades is, perhaps, a pardonable delusion; and where our perceptions of the past are accurate, we insist on downplaying the unique problems that afflicted older generations. In reading the works of the Brontë family, say, one might possibly be tempted to regard Victorian England in any number of charming lights, forgetting that all except the father died of illnesses before the age of 39—hardly a romantic state of affairs. Or, to take a more recent, personally incriminating, example: a soldier standing tediously in a Middle Eastern desert might naïvely claim to prefer to have been holed up in a nondescript cottage with the Greatest Generation in German-occupied France; this on account of having seen too many films and having thought only shallowly about what such an experience might have really been like. It is rarely true that the grass actually is greener on the inaccessible plot.

Yet whereas bygone times can be idealized by either the select apprehension or ignorance of certain facts, works of literature may be evaluated solely on their internal merits. Though it would clearly be remiss to think all 19th century works artistic masterpieces, or even good—the “penny dreadfuls” were the 19th century equivalent of popular contemporary literary abominations, such as 50 Shades of Grey—it would seem fair to compare the most (or least) esteemed works of the period to those of our own.

But in order to have any sort of objective degeneration, there must be some fixed standard or criteria against which to uniformly criticize various works. This standard, whatever its properties, is at bottom called the English Language; though when it comes to art, this standard is clearly more complex than the sum of its lingual parts. The difficulty in attempting to conduct such a thing as literary criticism, as with art criticism, is not only that English speakers have very different ideas about what constitutes good or acceptable English (these discrepancies occur even in the highest echelons of the discipline), but that the language itself is malleable and sometimes vague, with a wide margin for style. The English language as it now exists is stylistically unrecognizable from that of the Elizabethans, for example, even less so than Old English, but it is English nonetheless. The contemporary authorities on the subject would be at odds with their long-dead counterparts.

The slightly philosophical question that here presents itself is whether it is objectively possible to compare the linguistics and style of two works from two significantly different literary periods with regard to hierarchical value. This would seem to involve the question of discerning at what point a difference in style becomes evidence of either a greater or lesser ability to communicate. Authors have multifarious intentions, of course, but the question is at what point one author can be said to be definitively better or worse or more artful than another in communicating his intended message.

We might take an example: Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. I do not intend to conduct a thorough analysis and comparison (even if I could) either of this or any other work, but a cursory glance will suffice:

“The night had a sinister aspect. A heated breeze from the south slowly fanned the summits of lofty objects, and in the sky dashes of buoyant cloud were sailing in a course at right angles to that of another stratum, neither of them in the direction of the breeze below. The moon, as seen through these films, had a lurid metallic look. The fields were sallow with the impure light, and all were tinged in monochrome, as if beheld through stained glass. The same evening the sheep had trailed homeward head to tail, the behaviour of the rooks had been confused, and the horses had moved with timidity and caution.” (Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd, Wordsworth Editions: Ware, Hertfordshire, 1993, p. 189)

Compare with Earnest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea:

“They walked up the road together to the old man’s shack and went in through its open door. The old man leaned the mast with its wrapped sail against the wall and the boy put the box and the other gear beside it. The mast was nearly as long as the one room of the shack. The shack was made of the tough budshields of the royal palm which are called guano and in it there was a bed, a table, one chair, and a place on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal. On the brown walls of the flattened, overlapping leaves of the sturdy fibered guano there was a picture in color of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and another of the Virgin of Cobre. These were relics of his wife. Once there had been a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see it and it was on the shelf in the corner under his clean shirt.” (The Old Man and the Sea, p. 4)

I admit to the selection of these passages as being arbitrary, but they are nevertheless characteristic of each respective author and therefore sufficient to make my point. In reading these two passages, it seems to me quite nearly an objective fact that Hardy’s descriptions possess an artfulness lacking in those of Hemmingway, which by comparison appear bland and staccato, devoid of an alluring prosaic rhythm. Whatever Hemmingway’s merits, they do not in my mind compete for dominance in the category of eloquence.

That many people deliberately prefer books that adopt a style akin to Hemmingway’s, perhaps finding them less tiresome to read than the elaborate verbiage characteristic of many 19th century works, say, is a fact reaffirmed by the kinds of literature given the highest praise in contemporary literary circles. At the risk of sounding snobbish, I have routinely found it difficult to read the works contained in certain literary periodicals (Ploughshares, Writer’s Digest, The Sun), as well as some contemporary novels, without undergoing a slight cringe. Nevermind the fact that a popular theme in many of these works is either gratuitous sexuality in one form or another, or some form of implicit nihilism, it is the way in which the content is generally either dully presented or, in attempting to be artful, creates instead the impression of one over-acting a scene. Take a highly typical excerpt from a work of fiction in the July 2013 issue of The Sun magazine:

It was my junior year of high school, and I was living in a Victorian on Beach Avenue with my sister, Alex, who is my twin but always somehow prettier and skinnier than me, and our grandmother, Zilpha. The house was old and handsome, like our grandmother, and it sat surrounded by perennial gardens on a grassy hill above the south shore of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York.

My parents had been killed in a car accident when I was in seventh grade. They were driving home from a wine tasting in Buffalo and got caught in a sudden snowstorm that swept off Lake Erie, and their car skidded off the road and hit a tree. My boyfriend Rick’s father had died of cancer of the throat, and I think one reason Rick loved me was because my parents were dead. He and his mother lived on my grandmother’s street, which is how we met. As residents we had access to a private beach, where Alex and I liked to swim and sunbathe in the summer, and where Rick and I liked to screw around late at night when the moon was out and the water smelled sweet and clean and the Big Dipper hung low above the lake, way out over Canada.” (Christian Zwahlen, “It Must Have Been Beautiful, But Now It’s Gone,” The Sun, issue 451, July 2013,

Even without a drawing a comparison to another work, the above excerpt is at best only grammatically correct, having the sort of matter-of-fact descriptions one would expect of someone filing a police report. Curiously—but not to my mind surprisingly—the preceding excerpt is not altogether beneath the previous excerpt of Hemmingway. This is the lamentable reality: with regard to prosaic style (not content), there is often only a subtly discernible gap in quality (if at all) between lay writers and those highly esteemed. This exemplifies the vast difference in current literary trends and in what is now considered writing worthy of publication. I grant that it is rather unfair to compare a famous work of old to an unknown piece by a contemporary author, so let us approach the issue from a fairer angle—by looking at a passage from George R. R. Martin’s famous series, A Song of Ice and Fire (1):

“The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. They set forth at daybreak to see a man beheaded, twenty in all, and Bran rode among them, nervous with excitement. This was the first time he had been deemed old enough to go with his lord father and his brothers to see the king’s justice done. It was the ninth year of summer, and the seventh of Bran’s life.

The man had been taken outside a small holdfast in the hills. Robb thought he was a wildling, his sword sworn to Mance Rayder, the King beyond-the-Wall. It made Bran’s skin prickle to think of it. He remembered the hearth tales Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.

But the man they found bound hand and foot to the holdfast wall awaiting the king’s justice was old and scrawny, not much taller than Robb. He had lost both ears and a finger to frostbite, and he dressed all in black, the same as a brother of the Night’s Watch, except that his furs were ragged and greasy.” (George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones, p. 11)

This passage, while certainly not poorly written, and much better than Mr. Zwahlen’s, is rather uninteresting in its depictions. The story is fascinating, highly complex, and full of an engrossing intensity, but there is something un-compelling in the way in which Martin sets his scenes and develops his characters. I have begun reading this book on three separate occasions, making it several hundred pages deep, and each time finding the prose too uninspiring to be worth my time; though I may eventually return to it on account of the story. If only Thomas Hardy had contrived to write the story of the Starks and Lannisters…

Now take this excerpt from one of my favorite novels, Jane Eyre:

“From my discourse with Mr. Lloyd, and from the above reported conference between Bessie and Abbot, I gathered enough of hope to suffice as a motive for wishing to get well: a change seemed near,—I desired and waited it in silence. It tarried, however: days and weeks passed: I had regained my normal state of health but no new allusion was made to the subject over which I brooded. Mrs. Reed surveyed me at times with a severe eye, but seldom addressed me: since my illness, she had drawn a more marked line of separation than ever between me and her own children; appointing me a small closet to sleep in by myself, condemning me to take my meals alone, and pass all my time in the nursery, while my cousins were constantly in the drawing-room. Not a hint, however, did she drop about sending me to school: still I felt an instinctive certainty that she would not long endure me under the same roof with her; for her glance, now more than ever, when turned on me, expressed an insuperable and rooted aversion.” (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Chapter IV, p. 41.)

The subjects of these respective passages are irrelevant; the latter is superior to the preceding two in its command of the English language and the artistry with which it communicates information about the characters to the reader. Even if one detests the subject of the story, or wishes, as one friend recently said to me of Charlotte Brontë’s characters, to “throw them all into a pit of snakes,” a person with any regard for good diction cannot but appreciate it. One may enjoy a work of literature, but fail to appreciate it. Likewise, one may thoroughly appreciate a work, hating its subject or philosophy or author all the while.

In what I regard to be tantamount to literary blasphemy, Kurt Vonnegut famously espoused a sentiment that many other existing authors have either consciously or unconsciously put into practice: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college” (A Man Without a Country). I wish Mr. Vonnegut had ended more appropriately with what would have then been a prophetic addition, “…or that one is capable of thoughts exceeding 140 characters.” Dispense with the semicolon and one gets Twitter; or, rather, one gets short stories and novels written as if Twitter’s 140-character limit were the primary constraint upon their composition.

It is, of course, perfectly acceptable for a person to prefer literature that is not of the highest literary quality; just as it is perfectly acceptable for a person to occasionally indulge in foods that are unhealthy. I only mean to suggest that the recent works most highly regarded are inferior to even those works considered only modestly successful a hundred years ago. But the moment one begins to praise Rothko at Caravaggio’s expense, I feel I must lift a finger in protest. It is not that modern or contemporary works are entirely devoid of merit––far from it—but something has largely been lost and not merely changed. There is a point at which it is no longer a question of apples and oranges but of fruit-specific integrity. Modern apples, however, unlike modern fiction, have to the present, at least, retained their sweetness.


1.) In citing this as an example of unimpressive writing, I realize I will now proceed to make enemies.

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Racist Anti-Racism

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In our day, it is not only people that are categorized according to race, but ideas. If recent history is any indication, even my attempt to broach the subject of the double-standards common in discussions on racism will be met with (at least) skepticism by some who consider my pigmentation inherently disqualifying. After all, how might a white man understand the plight of blacks (1) who feel ostracized on account of their race? The answer is simple: racism is an ideology, which means it cannot be the prerogative of any particular race, and therefore does not operate in only one direction .

That the U.S. has been guilty of pervasive official discrimination against blacks in the past is an incontrovertible fact, and it is praiseworthy that those unjust legal biases have rightly been eradicated. However, though there still exist fringe groups that openly profess racial prejudice (e.g., the Klu Klux Klan), the kind and scope of persecution alleged to occur against the black community today is, I aver, not of the KKK brand. (Nobody attributes any credence to anything issuing forth from the obtuse mouths of the Klan members, anyway.) I submit that it is not the prevalence of melanin in a person’s skin alone that fosters a tendency to form possibly unjust preconceptions, but that in conjunction with the perpetuation of what is called the “black community” or “black culture” (2). Discrimination against blacks, when is does actually occur, is rarely an aversion to the color of their skin, but often the result of a distaste for the substance of what is understood to be the associated subculture. This is not really racism, but a sort of anti-culturalism. Just what constitutes “black culture,” I do not presume to know; I know only that it is the subject of volumes of literature and consistent media attention, and that if the term were meaningless, it could hardly receive the press it now enjoys.

Even granting that there does exist such a thing as black culture, it is, of course, not technically correct or appropriate for the average person (3) to presuppose of any other with very dark skin their membership within that culture. This is true of any kind of stereotype one might be inclined to attribute to some race. However, recognition of the fact that black culture is the recipient of much positive advertising in the media—particularly from prominent rap and hip hop artists and television (e.g., BET)—ought to diminish the swiftness with which blacks fire allegations of discrimination. Were I to don a tee-shirt emblazoned with only the word “Cornell,” a person might be forgiven for falsely assuming that I actually attended there.

Examples of the deliberate effort to cultivate this cultural distinction are numerous. There are nationally recognized organizations that specifically promote a kind of racial distinction: Miss Black USA, Ebony Magazine, Black Enterprise, and the—dare I say infamous—National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Likewise, at my own undergraduate alma mater, there were at least two black interest groups: the Society of Black Engineers and The Society of Distinguished Black Women. That such groups exist simultaneously with loud efforts to end discrimination makes it difficult to avoid the sense that there is a glaring double-standard. I can vividly imagine the kind of vitriol I would inevitably receive, the innumerable accusations of hatred and prejudice, had I tried to start a parallel group in which I only exchanged the word “black” for “white.”

Though making racial distinctions is not necessarily wrong—after all, there are niche groups for almost everything—it is at least exceedingly counterproductive to the stated aims of such groups as the NAACP. If the ultimate goal is really a pervasive social “color blindness,” it is difficult to see how having a sort of “black pride” is in any way helpful. Such a sentiment is understandable in the context of the 1970s, when America was still plagued by the lingering prevalence of an anti-black milieu, but the circumstances now hardly resemble that unfortunate state of affairs. Having a black president was at that time unfeasible; now, the first black president is well into his second term. Whatever its current manifestations, racism against blacks is hardly what it once was.

The kind of rhetoric bandied about by the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of this country would seem to lead one to the opposite conclusion: that racism in America is still as prevalent as ever. Given the great improvements in the understanding of equality that have been made in the public consciousness, one tires of the impassioned speeches that predictably attempt to channel the moral indignation of the honorable Martin Luther King, Jr. The compelling desire to be needed, to spearhead a fight against an injustice which on a grand scale no longer exists, has the unfortunate effect of creating the very problem that needs solving—the purveyance of racism, albeit in the opposite direction. This achieves in effect a sort of counter-racism. Some blacks have even gone so far as to suggest that it is impossible for them to be racist. This is quite simply because racism is in their minds a one-sided endeavor in which they are the sole victims.

The most prominent example of this divisiveness is witnessed in the circumstances surrounding the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. In large part, many people (blacks in particular) instantly accused George Zimmerman of having committed a racially motivated crime, well before the full facts of the case had been made public, and have since artificially manufactured the case as a civil rights issue. For many blacks (though certainly not all), Zimmerman is guilty and will remain so in their eyes even if he is acquitted. In a continual barrage of callow extortion taking place in the sophisticated realm of Twitter, Mr. Zimmerman has received numerous open death threats from some blacks claiming to be willing to take justice into their own hands—hardly an effective way to win acceptance in the public eye. If respect and acceptance is truly the goal of the black community, the volatile outrage that Trayvon Martin’s death ignited therein is achieving exactly the opposite effect, and it must therefore be condemned.

Further evidence that the purveyors of black culture are ideologically entrenched can be found in the strained—and, frankly, outrageous—lengths to which some writers have gone to defend Rachel Jeantel’s abysmal testimony in Mr. Zimmerman’s trial. Not only was Ms. Jeantel found to have lied on several occasions (at least once while under oath), her openly disrespectful attitude is hardly becoming. Her genuine ignorance and incivility can certainly be forgiven, but they cannot be respected. In an article titled, “Why Black People Understand Rachel Jeantel,” author Christina Coleman begins, “If ever I thought myself objective and unbiased, the George Zimmerman trial is definitely not that moment.” (I suppose we must thank Ms. Coleman for saving us the trouble of detecting her bias by having to read the entire article.) She goes on:

“But maybe the reason white people don’t understand Rachel Jeantel has something more to do with white privilege then [sic], what they would call, Rachel’s capricious nature. / Let’s for one second try to understand why Rachel is “angry” (read emotional), “hood” (read blunt), and “unintelligent” (read multilingual).”

That Ms. Coleman categorically attributes Ms. Jeantel’s faults to “white privilege” and understands the word “unintelligent” to be synonymous with “multilingual” is, I think, telling. The straw-grasping in an attempt to defend any member of the black community, no matter the apparent transgression, is precisely the best way to undermine any sympathies people may feel towards blacks. If I may be so bold, engaging in constructive criticism or condemnation when it is warranted would perhaps constitute a more effective PR campaign than hurried attempts to wave away any and every apparent vice.

Racism, if it is to go the way of smallpox and Dodos, must be attacked wherever it is manifested. There is no one who may by virtue of their race consider themselves immune to even subtle prejudice or, worse, justified in engaging in open racial hostility. If America is to enjoy the richness that may be had as a result of being a true melting pot, no subculture may consider itself above pointed self-criticism; for by fancying himself invulnerable a man chinks his own armor.


(1) I use the term “black” in distinction to African American, since it is possible to be an American with very dark skin and yet not necessarily be of African decent, as is the case with Belizeans.

(2) It must be noted that, wherever they find their origin, these terms have been adopted and perpetuated proudly by certain demographics within the black community.

(3) A case for racial profiling for purposes of security, as in an airport, can in my opinion be made on the grounds of valid statistics. The success of Israeli security, for example, is in no small part due to the fact that they unapologetically employ profiling techniques.

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Private Milk and Social Vinegar

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According to the sort of wisdom one gleans from overhearing people at social gatherings and coffee shops, as with milk and vinegar one ought never to mix religion and politics. The degree to which this is true depends heavily on what is meant by the word “mix”; for theocracies have certainly in most cases been of the most tyrannical variety, tending as they do to place a divine impetus behind any and every moral atrocity. C.S. Lewis observed that “theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us” (The Weight of Glory). Indeed, history makes a truly damning case against any system of governance that grants tremendous power to broken and afflicted men – which is to say all men.

It is, however, a great error to suppose that, as Mr. Hitchens bitterly put it, it is religion that poisons everything. This is an increasingly popular sentiment, and its refrain echoes down the halls of the university and is reverberated by young atheists before they have scarcely learned how to spell “Nietzsche.”

But even if Mr. Hitchens were correct, then surely none of us, not even the ostensibly impervious Mr. Hitchens himself, is exempt; for whatever ill effects we may be forced by circumstance to endure at the hands of others – as in a theocrac­y – the greater and necessarily more potent dose of poison is the one self-administered. Philosophy – for that is what a religion is, after all – cannot be escaped. If a person believes anything, he believes in a religion. As any parent will attest, this religion is from the earliest moments of childhood one of Self. It is only later that some children learn clever nomenclature by which to declare in exalted tones their religion of Self as being one of utilitarianism or humanism or collectivism – all various philosophical rearrangements of social self-service.

Contrary to what one might initially be inclined to suppose on the basis of the terminology, there is no atheistic utilitarianism, no atheistic system of ethics, that is not at its very core selfish. Materialism has the very unpleasant consequence of making selfish even the motivations for altruism. The opening line of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 essay, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, reads, “The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody” (emphasis mine). Wilde’s honesty is exceedingly rare in such circles. Any notions of selflessness espoused by a materialist cannot be anything but farcical; and any materialist who is not a hedonist must be a very foolish materialist indeed, for he has been duped into thinking that there is some “greater good” that exists outside himself, beyond his short life, and for which he ought to sacrifice. Reflecting on his eventual abandonment of Leftist ideals in the conclusion to his memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens writes:

I suspect that the hardest thing for the idealist to surrender is the teleological, or the sense that there is some feasible, lovelier future that can be brought nearer by exertions in the present, and for which “sacrifices” are justified. With some part of myself, I still “feel,” but no longer really think, that humanity would be the poorer without this fantastically potent illusion. “A map of the world that did not show Utopia,” said Oscar Wilde, “would not be worth consulting.” I used to adore that phrase, but now reflect more upon the shipwrecks and prison island to which the quest has led. (p. 420)

The only kind of sacrifice that a materialist can consistently endorse is the kind that has some prospect of benefit in the here and now. Any notions of the “greater good” or objective progress, political or otherwise, necessarily assume the existence of a kind of transcendence that can only reside in the supernatural. Thus, the professing materialist who fiercely defends selflessness as a virtue is not really a materialist at all.

It cannot be called clever – cute, perhaps­­ – the way in which some atheists claim in bouts of counterproductive conceit to only “lack belief” in God, rather than believing positively that God does not exist. Nevermind that this places them squarely on par with rocks, cats, and every other thing incapable of thought or rationality. Theists, on this view, are literally the only exception to that which may be called “atheist.” Yet how mendacious it would be of theists to espouse a lack of belief in atheism rather than to assume the burden of proof that necessarily accompanies every positive claim! Atheists ought not to get a pass in fancying themselves devoid of religion simply because they have defined religion in such a way as to exclude themselves. They are like the politician who fancies himself above politics by referring to himself as an “independent.” The person who considers himself a strictly objective observer simply because he ascribes to a form of philosophical materialism exhibits a very crass sort of disingenuousness, as if because of his rejection of the supernatural his actions (and therefore his politics) do not arise as a direct result of his deeply held beliefs.

The person who thinks it possible to separate religious conviction from political influence shows that he understands neither religion nor politics. One’s religion necessarily touches everything, or else it touches nothing, and therefore cannot be said to be a religion in any meaningful sense of the word. A professing Muslim, for example, who neither prays, nor exercises charity, nor fasts, nor makes the hajj is as good a Muslim as any atheist, and indeed–if he were honest with himself–might very well be one. He is like the atheist who acts selflessly.

Acting on the basis of religious conviction does not necessarily imply a coercive governmental system (i.e. theocracy). A person is not only able to exercise his convictions without becoming onerous, he truly has no choice in the matter. He can choose not to oppress those with whom he disagrees, but he cannot choose to act apart from his convictions. Claims that any influence of religious conviction upon politics is oppressive (or preventable) cannot be regarded seriously. A person claiming to act in denial of his personal philosophy only serves to clarify just what is his true philosophy. A politician claiming, for instance, to value the lives of unborn children, yet who endorses legislation to the contrary by way of appeals to a Jeffersonian “wall of separation,” only shows that his true beliefs (and therefore his religion­) afford a higher value to personal “liberty” – a truly vulgar use of the word in this context – than to the preservation of life. We may well argue the degree to which one’s beliefs ought to take shape in public policy – a distinction similar to that between applied ethics and morality – but it is not my intent to do so here; only to suggest that a complete detachment is impossible.

Thus, conceptions of politics that envision policy derived apart from one’s fundamental beliefs are illusory. In justification for such a notion, however, one often hears atheists make monopoloid claims upon “reason” as being their sole guide. These atheists exhibit a fundamentalism worse than even the most legalistic Christian; for at least the Christian realizes he has a religion. This sort of atheist is so religious, so blindly devoted to reason, that he is not even aware of it. (Nevermind that, despite Kant’s impressive efforts, virtue seems not to be explained–at the very least not without great difficulty–by the proposal that it is grounded in rational principle.)

But a person need not be aware of his own religion in order to exercise it, for it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34). Everyone lives his life by what he believes, consciously or not, to be true; that is his religion, and no amount of semantic squirming or disdain for the word is capable of severing the necessary dependence of his actions (and votes) upon it.

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Language and the Progressive


If it is true that government is at best a necessary evil, then the state ought to be regarded with a wary eye and, likewise, any political party or philosophy that seeks to elevate the state to a position of esteem. And yet, rather than with suspicion, the Progressive confers upon the state a role of immense honor and importance, attributing to it almost salvific powers by which he hopes society’s ills might be cured. Like the Israelites, who pleaded with God to give them a king that they might be “like all the nations”, the Left receives with open arms the ever-encroaching intrusions of the state. But God did not give the Israelites a king as a blessing, but, granting their incessant pleas, as a curse upon their foolishness; and for which they suffered immensely. The state, on the Progressive view, is not merely the reluctant by-product of flawed men, but almost a philanthropic entity all its own – it is not a government but The Government. “Once abolish the God,” wrote Chesterton, “and the state becomes the God.” Indeed, rather than consider some transcendent Authority, acknowledging with humility the inevitable tendency of all men towards a very real moral corruption in positions of power, the Progressive will in nearly every instance exhaust himself in defense of the state, often to the point of absurdity. Take, for example, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ likening of the President’s recent divisive inaugural address to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; or, worse, the ease with which the President’s extraordinarily massive and irresponsible spending has been consistently overlooked and explained away, the blame often being placed on the shoulders of his predecessor. Such examples are innumerable and can be obtained fresh from any cursory viewing of the evening news.

Desiring to make his political and moral infractions more palatable to those forced to abide by his decrees, and effectively providing for his would-be defenders a more plausible ground by which to make their case, a politician need only become an expert in Orwellian doublespeak. (The chicken-and-egg question of whether excellent doublespeakers tend to become politicians or vice versa is a sociological question I shall not attempt to untangle.) So long as the language is appropriately tailored to circumvent the conscience, placing the appropriate emphasis on the absolute necessity of a piece of legislation to secure safety or health or prosperity or some other such collective good, there is no absurd or immoral policy which cannot be foist upon the citizenry. For example, it is very easy to sell such a concept as infanticide ­– one need only call an unborn child by a different name ­– a “fetus” – and proponents of the practice “Pro-Choice”; for who would dare oppose a person’s freedom to choose? Convincing a person to surrender his arms is equally as simple – gun-control need only be referred to matter-of-factly as “reducing gun violence”; for who would dare voice opposition to such a proposition? Forcibly taking a man’s money in order to give it to another need only be called “charity”; for surely none of us wishes to be thought miserly? The very term “Progressive” is itself exemplary of an attempt to rebrand old ideas.

Insofar as it concerns the passage of legislation or the attempt to persuade large groups to adopt some particular idea, the master of rhetoric need not be a master of anything else. Though the term “progressive” would seem on its face to suggest otherwise, this is not a new phenomenon. As Plato aptly observed, “In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill… we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.” The use of language as propaganda is by no means solely a Leftist tactic, but one used by anyone seeking to circumvent the trouble of engaging with detractors. It is the Left, however, that has operated primarily and consistently by a very astute method of language co-option; and it is quite clear that if one is able to demonize his opponents, shaming them into silence, one need not go through the troublesome task of addressing and refuting arguments. Expressing dissent on matters of Progressive policy involving the legalization of gay marriage, entitlement programs, gun-control, and global warming (now, more flexibly, “climate change”) is tantamount to labeling oneself a hateful, miserly, cruel, uncaring, ignorant, “unbelievably stupid” (thank you, Mr. Morgan), child-hating, bigot. It is, unfortunately, a tactic as effective as it is fallacious.

The reason for this apparent tactical difference that seems generally to occur between Conservatives and Progressives is due simply to the fact that the advancement of Progressive goals requires the sale of a host of ideas that often defy reason or conscience (or the Constitution). For example, inclusion among the American Progressive ranks evidently requires that one promote state-funded infanticide, high taxes, federally-controlled (mandated) healthcare, and other such programs which could not be advanced or maintained without the prodigious use of smoke and mirrors to obfuscate from the public eye their many unpleasant aspects.

But the difference between Conservatives and Progressives can perhaps be observed most simply in how each regards the people – those under the domain of the state. Conservatives regard people in an optimistic light, generally believing that people are trustworthy, well-intentioned, astute, ingenious, and capable. The Conservative case for a small central government is erected upon the notion that people ought to possess the freedom to choose what is best for themselves, that the securing of liberty is morally and practically superior to any system that involves reaching into every corner of a man’s life and pocketbook. In stark contrast, rather than as a group of individuals, Progressives tend to view people as a collective mass that requires controlling, herding, restricting, whose hands need and ought to be held at every opportunity. The common man has value, but only when considered as a part of the collective whole. Liberty, on the Progressive view, is only the smattering of crumbs left over after the state has gobbled up the many freedoms it deems necessary to sufficiently control what it regards to be a largely ignorant and volatile populace. Rather than a transcendent principle to be secured, Progressive “liberty” is instead condescendingly granted by the state; rights are demoted to privileges.

The rhetorician has reached the height of his craft when he finds it effortless to say certain words and alter their arrangement and context slightly such that he means something quite different from the way in which they are normally understood. It is precisely an understanding of this keen ability that will explain how President Obama can do everything in his limited power to effectively neuter the Second Amendment, while simultaneously proclaiming his affirmation of it; how he can use words like “together” and “collective” and at the same time, under a façade of unity, deliberately slight swathes of those by whom he is employed. In Progressive hands it is only the language of the Constitution that remains – its meaning and intent is reversed, or at least severely disfigured; and it is by way of such semantic disfigurement, as well as ceaseless appeals to emotion, that Progressives seek to convince us of the state’s beneficence and efficacy, implying that we ought to put our trust in an elite few, bowing low to kiss the rings on the state’s compassionate hand.

It is not self-evident truths that must be couched in the vagueness of language, but only those ideas in which lurks something foul. A people may be led happily to their destruction so long as they are capable of taking the state at its word; but a simple question, uttered firmly and persistently, would undoubtedly be the undoing of the Progressive movement: “What do you mean by that?”

A good critique of common arguments from advocates of gun control.

Monster Hunter Nation

I didn’t want to post about this, because frankly, it is exhausting. I’ve been having this exact same argument for my entire adult life. It is not an exaggeration when I say that I know pretty much exactly every single thing an anti-gun person can say. I’ve heard it over and over, the same old tired stuff, trotted out every single time there is a tragedy on the news that can be milked. Yet, I got sucked in, and I’ve spent the last few days arguing with people who either mean well but are uninformed about gun laws and how guns actually work (who I don’t mind at all), or the willfully ignorant (who I do mind), or the obnoxiously stupid who are completely incapable of any critical thinking deeper than a Facebook meme (them, I can’t stand).

Today’s blog post is going to be aimed at the first group…

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The Christmas House



Quiet and still sits a house on a hill

In wintry white adorned;

With a happy fire by which to retire,

Where none are ever scorned.


Upon the air hangs, crisp and fair,

A scent from the smoky plumes

That through the willows heartily billows

And throughout the forest fumes.


Out of ancient stone, its walls have grown,

The roof out of living lumber;

Its chambers are many; its stores aplenty;

It is a house that does not slumber.


Amidst the trees, who stand at ease

Beneath their snowy loads,

There stirs not a sound for miles around,

Save upon the crooked roads


Where young and old trudge through the cold

Round the smooth and winding lane,

That despite the chill is pleasant still

And leads up to the cottage gate.


The children play along the way

And laugh and josh and giggle,

Running to and fro in the downy snow,

As with glee they shout and wiggle.


While the old and gray ride in their sleighs

Recounting the greatest tales;

In verse and rhyme, they each tell the time

When first they crossed these hilly vales.


Then enter through those happy few

To whom the House is known,

Who plop and slump into wooly lumps,

Their weathered coats upon the stone.


The dancing light the heart excites

Amidst the glistening tinsel,

And illumines there all faces, fair,

Who, gathered round, there mingle.


Full of laughter and mirth there is never a dearth

Of company jolly and good.

You will laugh ’til you cry, ’til there’s pain in your sides

And you’re curled where you once had stood.


There is coffee and tea, and treats for free;

No guest shall ever lack.

There is always a seat and plenty to eat;

Those who enter shall never go back.


“Would you care to dine, or prefer only wine?”,

The Host may gladly inquire.

One or both you may chose, for you cannot lose

In a House that does not ever require.


For those who wane from the blithe refrain

Of the loud and jocund hymns,

There are tranquil lumps of pillows, plump,

That with comfort plushly brim.


Swathed in down, you shall gently drown

Beneath a furry heap;

And in a wooly bundle softly trundle

Into a fathomless sleep.


Silent and askew until morning anew

The guests of the House shall slumber,

And endlessly dream of merry scenes

That flourish without number.


Though times be strange and the seasons change,

The House does yet abide;

For it is eternal and ageless, enduring and changeless,

And its splendor shall never subside.


Of such a Home, precious little is known,

And fewer, still, have found;

For arduous is the way to the festive buffet,

The path of fabled renown.


Though throngs have sought the distant spot

Whereon the House resides,

It’s only the pure, the merry, the sure

Who the Keeper subtly guides;


For they alone will see what it truly means to be

A distinguished and honored guest

In the House of ages, the envy of sages,

By which they will be assuredly blessed.


Should you happen to find yourself inclined

To venture through its gate,

May your happiness abound in the joyful sound

That the halls of the Christmas House make.


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