Great moments in civilization

From the comments at Isegoria:

Years ago, I drove a visitor from the Middle East around the suburbs and countryside of my beautiful Rust Belt city. He observed, that in his country, one felt safe in the cities, but you feared going into the exurbs, as you would be at the mercy of bandits and other lawless types. He admired the fact that we had managed to reverse that order, which has held for most of human history.

Being shameless

Severian tells a little story:

I got offered a mask walking into a store; I gave them a cheery “no thanks, I’m disabled!” and walked around doing my business, seemingly oblivious…. but I saw more than one person pull theirs down, and in the checkout line I had a woman (no less!) say something like “I wish more people would do what you did… but I gotta ask….”

“What’s my disability? It’s that I just can’t put up with scientifically illiterate bullshit, and I’m allergic to fascism. It’s a serious handicap, trust me.”

She took her mask off and gave me a high five right there. I know, I know, cool story bro… but it happened.

Today’s quotes

Severian:

One of the most bizarre things about the Current Year is how quickly and thoroughly the shenanigans of our globohomo pirate overclass has turned me into a goofy Commie. I sound exactly like — if not far worse than — the goofiest hippy-dippy professor I mocked so mercilessly back in undergrad. I will never, ever wear Birkenstocks, nor a long gray pony tail behind my bald dome, but in every other way I’m just like those guys.

US out of everywhere? Hell yes, and much faster! The CIA is starting wars for fun and profit? Not only are they doing that, they’re trying to provoke insurrections right here at home, too, with the eager help of their Mini-Me’s in the FBI, who are so corrupt that the only decent thing to do is root for the Mob and the drug cartels. Manufacturing Consent reads like a how-to manual these days, and 1984 is the 50 Shades of Gray of the political class. They were right by accident, those hippies, and for all the wrong reasons, but… they were right.

Maureen Mullarkey:

As of October 24, the number of roses sent was 14,159. Had anyone thought to send Pelosi a dead fish instead? The stink of some 14,159 fish carcasses piling up in the mail room of her DC office would correspond perfectly to the stench of the abortion regime she represents.

Today’s quote

J Greely:

I used to think that the world-building of Fallout 4 was the least-believable thing about the game, with people failing at even the basics of creating a pre-modern society after a full 200 years, and still living in rubble-filled open-air unheated shacks in Boston. They’re not even keeping out the rain, much less the snow, and are wearing filthy clothes scavenged from the ruins. Twenty years, sure; fifty years, maybe, but two hundred years of taping together rotting lumber and pulling clothes off of mannequins?

Then I saw how people responded to Covid-19. China didn’t need nukes to destroy American society…

In related news, I am disappointed to find that there are no In-N-Out Burgers in Kansas.

***

Bonus quote, from Maus at Severian’s place:

I’ve never felt like a typical Boomer, a fact that I chalked up to having much older parents (1916 and 1927) who ran a fairly strict, traditional household. But my focus shifted to much more obvious conflicts with the later Millenial and Zoomer cohorts, whose world views are materially and spiritually foreign to me. Ultimately, I’ve concluded that generational parsing is driven by cosumerism’s need for market segmentation, for which emphasis on conflicting differences is the sine qua non. It’s simply not a useful heuristic for assessing the worthiness of any particular individual I might encounter with an inclination to form a deeper association of any sort.

Language, language

If you view the Constitution of the United States in the National Archives Catalog, you’ll see a curious notice on a background of light blue. You’ll see it also if you look at the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights.

Yeah, this warning about language probably appears on every single National Archives Catalog page, not just these three. The website crew can’t possibly think the Constitution itself contains “potentially harmful content.” Right?

Miscellany

Illustration from The Traditional Catholic Weeb.

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Clarissa:

I’m writing this because I think it’s time for everybody to figure out their hard limit in the creeping totalitarianism we are experiencing. I’ve thought about mine, I have figured out what it is, and it’s very calming to know it. I highly recommend thinking about where you stop accommodating the totalitarians. What is off limits? We are all different, and everybody will put their boundary in a different place. That’s OK as long as we all find the boundary.

***

Morgan Freeberg:

When we know something is *not* so, there’s no need to censor it. There’s no need to censor phlogiston theory. There’s no need to censor “That wrestling match was totally legitimate.” There’s no need to censor “The moon is made of cheese.” The need for censorship exists when the message is provably true, or open to question with an outright refutation being impossible.

Joseph Moore:

History is full of Richard Richs.

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The Z-Man:

The thing is, Alex Jones claiming the vaccine will alter your DNA is no nuttier than much of what is in the mass media. In fact, a ridiculous claim is far less harmful than the plausible, but inaccurate claim. Few people will think the vaccine will turn you into Big Foot, but most people will believe we need to make kids wear masks. Far more people have been harmed by official lies than by goofballs on the internet.

***

J Greely:

There are two kinds of people who say, “don’t tell your parents what we did today”: child molesters and woke teachers.

Okay, maybe that’s just one kind of person.

Notes on fairy tales from a Chesterton conference:

Some modern renditions of Cinderella replace the “…and they lived happily ever after” for things like, “…and they lived and had their ups and downs, sometimes angry with each other, sometimes sad, and sometimes happy.” But this destroys the point of the tale, which is that Cinderella and her prince (in Grimm’s German literally, “the king’s son”) are an image of Christ and us, and that the “happily ever after” is Heaven. In an effort to make it more realistic they unwittingly make it less realistic since Heaven is, in fact, happiness ever after.

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Welcome to the new dark age:

The history of the computer is the destruction and replacement of record making and keeping systems by newer ones that are not backward compatible. Computers destroy history. Future historians (if any survive, 2525) will label our current era as a dark age, because there will be no records of what happened.

***

Bonus: a B. Kliban record cover from 1977.

Joyous multiples

It’s been a while since I last ran a poll. Let’s see if I can remember how to set one up.

(For the significance of “joy multiplier,” see here.)

The decline and fall of the English department

A long time ago I decided against a career in academia. It was one of the few major life decisions I got right.

… pluralism in academic settings rarely lasts for long. There has to be a truth at the end of the day, even if it’s the “truth” of an artificial academic consensus. When theory killed literary truth, it doomed the discipline. Into this vacuum, identity professors in English departments poured ersatz truths about race and sex, which have failed to shore it up. At the time I was baffled at this suicidal trend, but in retrospect I can see that it was only natural that identity politics should have ascended so quickly in the nineties. Its urgent claims gave English a moral meaning that theory had undermined. When literature itself no longer sparked the heat of conviction that divided Bloom and Hirsch in the early sixties, the discipline had to find another source of energy. Identity critics had the answer. They weren’t decadent—they were impassioned. By 1992, “post-structuralism” had a stale tang, but gender and queer sounded fresh and potent. A theory panel at the MLA Convention on “Shelley and the Sign” was ho-hum, but “Queer Shakespeare” down the hall was packed.

High seriousness was restored, but literature was the victim. It wasn’t Shakespeare that drew the crowd, but queerness: Lear was a pretext. Literature had become a booster rocket, at best, one that you jettison when you reach the orbit of political relevance. The institutional effects are plain to see at this late date. Fifty years ago, a university couldn’t call itself “Tier One” unless it had a renowned English department. No more: Abysmal enrollment numbers in the humanities at such universities prove the irrelevance of literary study. My colleagues around the country bemoan the decline, but they blame the wrong things. English did not fall because a bunch of conservatives trashed the humanities as a den of political correctness. It didn’t fall because it lost funding or because business leaders promoted STEM fields. It fell because the dominant schools of thought stopped speaking about the truth of literature. Once the professors could no longer insist, “You absolutely must read Dryden, Pope, and Swift—they are the essence of wit and discernment”; when they lost the confidence to say that nothing reveals the social complexity of the colonial situation better than Nostromo; if they couldn’t assure anyone that Hawthorne’s sentences showed the American language in its most exquisite form, they lost the competition for majors. Students stopped caring about literature because the professors stopped believing in its promises of revelation and delight.

Miscellaneous quotes

Assistant Village Idiot:

Critical Race Theory, and Critical Theory in general doesn’t have any art I can think of. Not poetry, not music, theater, film, painting, sculpture, nor literature. It may just be that I am not up on such things. I don’t think it is mere recency, as both have been around for years, nor is it a bias from unfair comparisons from centuries ago. I am not asking that it produce an equivalent to the high Renaissance. Existentialism is also recent but does not suffer from the same lack. There is plenty of interesting theater, poetry, and literature from them, and I think only a little stretch of the concept brings in the visual arts including film….

This is a major red flag for the intellectual foundation of a philosophy, that artists in no medium can bring forth anything of interest. The heart of artistic expression is transposition, of reframing or new understanding of one concept and making it manifest in another. If you can find nothing to transpose, it means there is nothing there.

Jeff Sypeck:

How many boys doze off in English class because no one made clear that poetry is also the province of Satanic wizards, voodoo queens, blood-flecked Vikings, Puritan swordsmen, and frantic barbarian hordes?

TS:

In 2008 I was wary of Obama but never bought into the “born in Kenya” crap and thought maybe he could do some great good in uniting our country racially. I think by 2012-ish I realized the enemy was within. By 2017 I realized we were in a Cold Civil War. And now in 2021 I think it’s a tossup as to who is the bigger enemy: the Left in this country or China.

Historical note: Dave Mustaine in 2012:

I’m just hoping that whatever is in the White House next year is a Republican. I can’t bear to watch what’s happened to our great country. Everybody’s got their head in the sand. Everybody in the industry is like, ‘Oh, Obama’s doing such a great job…’ I don’t think so. Not from what I see.

Looking at the Republican candidates, I’ve got to tell you, I was floored the other day to see that Mitt Romney’s five boys have a $100 million trust fund. Where does a guy make that much money? So there’s some questions there. And watching Newt Gingrich, I was pretty excited for a while, but now he’s just gone back to being that person that everybody said he was – that angry little man. I still like him, but I don’t think I’d vote for him.

Ron Paul… you know, I heard somebody say he was like insecticide – 98 percent of it’s inert gases, but it’s the two percent that’s left that will kill you. What that means is that he’ll make total sense for a while, and then he’ll say something so way out that it negates everything else. I like the guy because he knows how to excite the youth of America and fill them in on some things. But when he says that we’re like the Taliban… I’m sorry, Congressman Paul, but I’m nothing like the Taliban.

Earlier in the election, I was completely oblivious as to who Rick Santorum was, but when the dude went home to be with his daughter when she was sick, that was very commendable. Also, just watching how he hasn’t gotten into doing these horrible, horrible attack ads like Mitt Romney’s done against Newt Gingrich, and then the volume at which Newt has gone back at Romney… You know, I think Santorum has some presidential qualities, and I’m hoping that if it does come down to it, we’ll see a Republican in the White House… and that it’s Rick Santorum.”

The view from 1984

I’ve been browsing around in Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986. In his discussion of Free Live Free, he quotes a couple of passages that have gained force in the years since the year the novel was published. I thought I’d put them here, a bit more fully.

A history of America, delivered by a man in a duffel coat near the end of the story:

“Our country was founded on the principle of the destruction of the wild by the civilized. Let me … go back thirty thousand years before Christ, when the ancestors of the Indians crossed what are now the Bering Straits to occupy what some people have called an empty land. Those Indians represented civilization. The beavers felled trees and built lodges, but the Indians killed the beavers and skinned them.

Barnes said, “Then the whites came and skinned the Indians.”

“Precisely. But the frontiersmen who destroyed the Indians and their culture were destroyed themselves, with their culture, by the settlers who followed. Those settlers lost their farms to the banks, and the banks sold them to companies who have brought the advantages of corporate existence—immortality and amorality—to agriculture.

“In the cities, the same thing occurred. The early city of independent shops and restaurants is properly being displaced by one of the chain outlets, so that progressively greater control is exercised. Perhaps none of you have ever understood before why they are called that—chain outlets….

“You see the progress? The old stores had to sell things their customers wanted. As they’re eliminated, the need for their type of slavery is eliminated, too, and the chains can sell whatever they want. Their customers have to buy it because there is nothing else to buy. I ask you, all of you—how often have you gone into W. T. Grant’s and found there was nothing at all you wanted?”

And:

“The Indians used to be Americans—that’s what an American was. Then the trappers were Americans, the Americans of their day. Then the farmers, with their buggies and plow horses and white clapboard houses. Even today when you look at a picture of Uncle Sam, you’re seeing what those farmers were like dressed up to go to the county fair. Only farmers aren’t real Americans any more. Neither are Indians. Poor bastards of Indians aren’t even foreigners, and we like foreigners more than Americans, because foreigners are the Americans of the future. The trappers are gone, and pretty soon you’ll be gone too.”

After further provocation, one of his audience responds:

“… I am a gypsy and a princess. And a dupe, because you have made me one. But I will speak for the Indians too, because they were nomads when they were shaped by their own thoughts and not by yours, and we are nomads now, who will remain so though you will slay us….

“You have overcome us, but you have not conquered us. To conquer us you must beat us fairly, and you have not beaten us fairly, and so you have struck us to the ground, but you have not won. To conquer us, you must have dignity too, and for that reason you have not conquered us. A man may flee from a wasp and be stung by the wasp, but he has not been conquered by the wasp; it remains an insect and he is still a man. You deck yourselves like fools and chatter and hop like apes, and your princes marry whores. That is why even those you have crushed to dust will not call you master, and none will ever call you master until you meet a nation more foolish than yourselves.”

Earlier in the book the gypsy does some “catoptromancy.” She explains, “… what I have done is the verso of necromancy; I summoned the spirits of the unborn to reveal the future.” According to her,

“The greatest event of the coming decade will be the quadrumvirate. Four leaders, unknown today, shall unite to take political, financial, artistic, and judicial power. They shall create a revolution in thought. Many who are now rulers shall be imprisoned or exiled. Many who are now powerless shall rise to places of great authority. The rich shall be made poor, and the poor rich. Old crimes, now concealed, shall be made public, and their perpetrators given to the people as to a pride of lions. The four shall be hated and idolized, but their rule will not end within the period specified by my prediction.”

It’s time for the quadrumvirate to reveal itself.

Noise and pessimism

It is no coincidence that, as our culture has become stupider, it has also become noisier. Here’s an 1851 essay by Schopenhauer. He focuses on the wanton cracking of whips; I wonder what he would have said about subwoofers.

On Noise

Kant wrote a treatise on The Vital Powers. I should prefer to write a dirge for them. The superabundant display of vitality, which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life long. There are people, it is true — nay, a great many people — who smile at such things, because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are also not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art, in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence. The reason of it is that the tissue of their brains is of a very rough and coarse quality. On the other hand, noise is a torture to intellectual people. In the biographies of almost all great writers, or wherever else their personal utterances are recorded, I find complaints about it; in the case of Kant, for instance, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and if it should happen that any writer has omitted to express himself on the matter, it is only for want of an opportunity.

Continue reading “Noise and pessimism”

February miscellany

Maureen Mullarkey defends — sorta — the Vatican’s 2020 creche:

However off-beat the interpretation or craftsmanship, the Abruzzo portrayal is as innocent of blasphemy as a Lego Nativity. It is the departure from expectation—from the protocols of established iconography—that offends critics. Falsely accused of irreverence, its installation in St. Peter’s Square insinuates an intention that the project never held….

Agreed, Abruzzo’s Nativity was unsuited for solemn display in the Vatican. Both site and timing were malapropos. Nevertheless, all the artillery fired at it should have been aimed more accurately.

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Everything you need to know about Netflix:

The Netflix warning about a documentary concerning a man who beat women to death has two warnings: “Nudity, Smoking.”

***

Shamus has as clear and lucid an explanation of the GameStop business as you’ll find anywhere:

People called this a “David versus Goliath” type situation, which for me conjures up the image of a middle schooler vs. a linebacker. But in terms of weight class, this is more like a regular-sized dude versus Godzilla. Maybe David didn’t totally kill Goliath today, but given the extreme size differential I think cutting Goliath in half is pretty damned impressive.

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(Via Dale Price.)

… and that’s enough reality. Now for silly nonsense.

Continue reading “February miscellany”

Today’s useful word

Fraudulum

And so I propose the FRAUDULUM. It is the smallest unit of fraud. I define it to be the amount of fraud that is taking place when a husband tells his wife that the pants do not make her ass look fat. When you call a company and their recorded message tells you “Your call is very important to us,” that is 2 or 3 fraudulum. When the gas company calls and you tell them the check is in the mail, that is a dozen fraudulum. A dozen dozen fraudulum is a gross fraudulum, and that’s when a politician tells you “I feel your pain.”

(The proper response to anyone who says “I feel your pain” is “Hand me a baseball bat and I’ll validate your feelings.”)

Rehashed, reheated

The authoritative fall-of-civilization end-of-the-year roundup is Dave Barry’s, but there are others worth reading.

Titania McGrath:

The world finally accepted that there are more than 400 genders, and that all of these have been persecuted throughout history. Even the ones we invented last week.

Intersectional feminism triumphed over transphobia. All of a sudden, major companies were using phrases such as “menstruators”, “vulva owners” and “people with a cervix”. All of which is far more respectful to women: or, as I like to call them, bipedal gestation units.

David Thompson:

As the coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip, we learned, via an immensely woke Brooklynite podcaster named Billy, “What it’s like to isolate with your girlfriend and her other boyfriend.” And in the pages of The Atlantic, we were told, by Natan Last, a Brooklynite and graduate of Columbia, that crossword puzzles are one of “the systemic forces that threaten women.”

Comforting thought

David Deavel:

One friend told me a couple years ago that her persistent fears about the collapse of civilization had eased once she had realized that it had collapsed already.

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Unrelated: what’s going on with John C. Wright’s website?

Update: The site is back, at least for now. Apparently there was some site migration issue.

Update two: Sometimes it’s back, sometimes not.