The Cyruses we need

The sexuality scholars of the time fancied themselves edgy characters exploding bourgeois norms. They took pleasure in deriding older scholars, the “dead wood” who devoted their careers to such square projects as the Standard Edition of John Dryden. They, by contrast, wrote books with such titles as Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault; Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities; and Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. The key words of the day were “subversive” and “transgressive.”

Paglia showed them what subverting and transgressing really looked like, mocking the tenured radicals’ bogus cultural politics—bourgeois lives in leafy college towns and hip urban neighborhoods—and inept handling of bohemian, illicit material.…

… It was taken as a sign of profundity, not incoherence, that few people could untangle sentences such as this from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990):

Once the incest taboo is subjected to Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis in The History of Sexuality, that prohibitive or juridical structure is shown both to instate compulsory heterosexuality within a masculinist sexual economy and to enable a critical challenge to that economy.

Rather than labor to translate such a sentence into English, Paglia mocked it. Why take these writers’ half-baked “readings” and low standards seriously, she asked. They come from dilettantes, not creative minds.

In 1991 Paglia spoke at Harvard, where she accused the university of hiring “trendy people in cultural studies centers who believe that the world was created by Foucault in 1969.”…

… Since those professors were too ensconced and comfortable to improve, or even to carry out the basic pedagogical duties, the students must take charge of their own education:

First, make the library your teacher. Rediscover the now neglected works of the great scholars of the last 150 years, who worked blessedly free of the mental pollutants of poststructuralism. Immerse yourself in the reference collection, and master chronology and etymology. Refuse to cooperate with the coercive ersatz humanitarianism that insultingly defines women and African-Americans as victims. Insist on free thought and free speech.

The critique struck home. Under Paglia’s raillery, the theorists of sex and politics looked like small ignorant figures in spite of their knowing demeanor. All they really understood was academic politics, which they played very well. Paglia demonstrated that they had erected a social network that operated on cronyism and prestige, which would collapse as soon as a few genuinely erudite and courageous critics challenged them.

In Provocations Paglia declares that the heart of the ’60s movements was “a new religious vision,” whose votaries cared about political reform, but “were also seeking the truth about life outside [existing] religious and social institutions.” The truth came before politics, sex, rebellion, or drugs. The truth Paglia identified long ago is that in all human beings there is an “emotional turmoil that is going on above and below politics, outside the scheme of social life.” Great art touches it, and so does religion. Individuals who respond to art and religion understand that when politics and social life presume to replace them as right expressions of that turmoil, they falsify it instead…and Paglia won’t countenance a lie. That puts her at odds with every institution liberals have managed to seize, from academia to the Democratic Party. But if you mentioned that to her, she would shrug and get on with the truth-telling. She has nature on her side.

Mark Bauerlein, Force of Nature, Claremont Review of Books.

A lot of Evangelicals reportedly believe that Donald Trump is kind of like King Cyrus in Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament (pick your preference), sent to rescue Real Christians® from liberal captivity.

I’m more inclined to think that Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson, neither of them Real Christians® but with extraordinary crap detectors, are doing the Lord’s work, probably unwittingly, in demolishing parts of the deathworks. (They are two reasons I believe in common grace and natural law.)

It remains to us to walk out of the rubble.

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Potpourri, 12/22/18

1

Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Making Lynching a Federal Crime” says the headline. A photo caption describes the pressing need:

“More than 4,700 people were lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968, according to one estimate, and over 70 percent of the victims were black.”

Am I wrong to think “A day late, a dollar short”? Tell me more:

“For over a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror,” Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”

Okay. I had been lying awake at night worried that people weren’t recognizing that lynching is a stain on our country’s history. But then I’m WEIRD.

That addition is largely symbolic, said Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Yeah, I had kind of figured that out.

Frank Pezzella, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the bill’s passage also carries a message of deterrence …

So, while they’re at it, could they please pass a law deterring elephants from invading my living room?

“It was taken for granted in the South that whites could use force against any African-Americans who became overbearing,” he said. “How do we connect that with hate crimes in the present? Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place.”

“Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place”? Seriously? That‘s how we connect an evil history to this present virtue signalling? Well, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, I guess. Will we pass a law against the Senate’s own progressive McCarthyism in 2068?

Just about the only thing they got right was a definition of “lynching” that limits it to killing someone because of their race or religion, which at least arguably brings it into the legitimate constitutional powers of the national government.

But note that it was unanimous. I must be missing something about the pressing need for banning lynching as a government shutdown loomed.

2

Jerry Taylor, of the relatively new Niskanen Center:

Reason, as David Hume famously noted, is a slave of the passions, and libertarian passions point in one direction and one direction only: hostility to government. This passion is a powerful engine of motivated cognition, which invariably leads to weak policy analysis and dogmatism.

That was not at the top of my list of reasons for keeping libertarianism at arms’ length, but it’s a valid point. More:

  • Wherever we look around the world, when we see inconsequential governments with limited power, as libertarians would prefer, we see “failed states.” How much liberty and human dignity can be found there? Very little.
  • [A]ll libertarians agree that there are exceptions to their ethically-driven opposition to the use of government coercion and force. If there were not, there would be no libertarians; there would only be anarchists. But what are the scale and scope of those exceptions?
  • Factionalism within the libertarian world is rife and irresolvable because the principles themselves say less than you might think about what public policy ought to be (a point made with great force by my colleague Will Wilkinson).
  • Without some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action … Yet any set of beliefs, if they are coherent, are the wet clay of ideology. Hence, the best we can do is to police our inner ideologue with a studied, skeptical outlook, a mindful appreciation of our own fallibility, and an open, inquisitive mind.

3

Unable to make the case for his own virtues, Trump must aver that his vices are commonplace and inconsequential … When all this evidence is stitched together in a narrative — as Mueller’s report will certainly do — the sum will be greater than the sleaze of its parts. Russian intelligence officials invested in an innovative strategy to support the election of a corrupt U.S. businessman with suspicious ties to Russian oligarchs. The candidate and his campaign welcomed that intervention in public and private. And the whole scheme seems to have paid off for both sides … The United States seems to have gone from zero to banana republic in no seconds flat. But whether this transformation has been illegal, it must be impeachable — or else impeachment has no meaning.

Michael Gerson

4

In fact, over the years, as the locations for duels became more picturesque and the pistols more finely manufactured, the best-bred men proved willing to defend their honor over lesser and lesser offenses. So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes—to treachery, treason, and adultery—by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.

In the old and well-established code of dueling, it is understood that the number of paces the offender and offended take before shooting should be in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the insult. That is, the most reprehensible affront should be resolved by a duel of the fewest paces, to ensure that one of the two men will not leave the field of honor alive. Well, if that was the case, concluded the Count, then in the new era, the duels should have been fought at no less than ten thousand paces. In fact, having thrown down the gauntlet, appointed seconds, and chosen weapons, the offender should board a steamer bound for America as the offended boards another for Japan where, upon arrival, the two men could don their finest coats, descend their gangplanks, turn on the docks, and fire.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Kindle locations 750-53.

5

Planned Parenthood Is Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees, says the headline.

In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.

In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues.

Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.

At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave.

And at Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive services, managers in some locations declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth, according to current and former employees in California, Texas, North Carolina and New York.

My antipathy toward Planned Parenthood is probably in the middle of the pro-life pack, but I’ll just let the story speak for itself, pausing only to congratulate the New York Times, which has zero antipathy toward PP, for reporting it.

6

In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm, and pulling those forces out of that situation would be viewed as a return to normalcy. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite. In an even marginally sane world, congressional oversight would be required to send the US military to invade countries and commit acts of war, because that act, not withdrawing them, is what’s abnormal. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite.

Caitlin Johnstone

7

 

Though I’m now a retired attorney, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever serve on a jury, partly because one of the two contending attorneys won’t want someone highly skeptical of bloodstain analysis and other pseudo-scientific tricks of the sophists’ trade.

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Counter-hegemony

A fine Saturday WSJ profile of Heather MacDonald, who was only halfway onto my radar previously. She has some very plausible explanations of phenomena that swim against both progressive and conservative streams on snowflakes, Title IX Due Process, patriarchy and more.

Emphasis added.

1

Heather Mac Donald may be best known for braving angry collegiate mobs, determined to prevent her from speaking last year in defense of law enforcement. But she finds herself oddly in agreement with her would-be suppressors: “To be honest,” she tells me, “I would not even invite me to a college campus.”

No, she doesn’t yearn for a safe space from her own triggering views. “My ideal of the university is a pure ivory tower,” she says. “I think that these are four precious years to encounter human creations that you’re otherwise—unless you’re very diligent and insightful—really never going to encounter again. There is time enough for things of the moment once you graduate.”

2

Her views are heterodox. She would seem a natural ally of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” They argue that college “snowflakes” are the products of overprotective childrearing, which creates oversensitive young adults.

Ms. Mac Donald doesn’t buy it. Minority students disproportionately come from single-parent homes, so “it’s not clear to me that those students are being helicopter-parented.” To the contrary, “they are not getting, arguably, as much parenting as they need.” If anyone is coddled, it’s upper-middle- class whites, but “I don’t know yet of a movement to create safe spaces for white males.”

The snowflake argument, Ms. Mac Donald says, “misses the ideological component of this.” The dominant victim narrative teaches students that “to be female, black, Hispanic, trans, gay on a college campus is to be the target of unrelenting bigotry.” Students increasingly believe that studying the Western canon puts “their health, mental safety, and security at risk” and can be “a source of—literally—life threat.”

3

She similarly thinks conservatives miss the point when they focus on the due-process infirmities of campus sexual- misconduct tribunals. She doesn’t believe there’s a campus “rape epidemic,” only a lot of messy, regrettable and mutually degrading hookups. “To say the solution to all of this is simply more lawyering up is ridiculous because this is really, fundamentally, about sexual norms.”

Society once assumed “no” was women’s default response to sexual propositions. “That put power in the hands of females,” …

Young women … are learning “to redefine their experience as a result of the patriarchy, whereas, in fact, it’s a result of sexual liberation.”

4

What about the idea of actively enforcing viewpoint diversity? “I’m reluctant to have affirmative action for conservatives, just because it always ends up stigmatizing its beneficiaries,” Ms. Mac Donald says. Still, she’s concerned that as campuses grow increasingly hostile to conservatives, some of the best candidates may decide, as she did, that there’s no space left for them.

5

What worries Ms. Mac Donald more than the mob is the destructive power of its animating ideas. If the university continues its decline, how will knowledge be passed on to the next generation, or new knowledge created? Ms. Mac Donald also warns of a rising white identity politics—“an absolutely logical next step in the metastasizing of identity politics.”

6

I turn now to Andrew Sullivan, as I often do on Friday or Saturday.

His Friday column, The Danger of Trump’s Accomplishments, is almost perfect, but “Put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine and you get sewage”:

The Republican senators likely to be elected this fall will, if anything, be even more pro-Trump than their predecessors. Corker, Flake, McCain: all gone. The House GOP will have been transformed more thoroughly into Trump’s own personal party, as the primary campaigns revealed only too brutally. And if by some twist of fate, a constitutional battle between Congress and president breaks out over impeachment proceedings, Justice Kavanaugh will be there to make sure the president gets his way.

(Emphasis added)

That ipse dixit about Brett Kavanaugh defending Trump from impeachment is vile, far beneath Sully’s usual level and, I’d wager, wrong. Moreover, it undermines the judiciary and, thus, the rule of law as surely as Democrats do when they talk as if Kavanaugh is some kind of Manchurian Associate Justice.

And — set me straight if I’m missing something — I think it’s stupid. The House impeaches; the Senate tries the impeachment. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has nothing to do with this process which, as we’ve been reminded much of late, is political despite the allusion to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.