Sunday, August 28, 2011
At this moment, with New York City enduring a tropical storm that may yet become a hurricane, I'm grateful that Mayor Bloomberg didn't waste his energy working to strengthen the city's seawall, but chose instead to fight the true dangers, such as trans fats and smoking in public parks.
Friday, August 26, 2011
From the second part of Jay Nordlinger's "Salzburg Journal":
Being a student abroad had a great impact on me — because of the anti-Americanism of the Americans around me. It wasn’t “self-hating Americanism,” as people often say. These people did not hate themselves, trust me. Quite the opposite. What they hated was you, so to speak. Man, were they ashamed of their country — especially when governed by that yahoo Reagan. . . .
A German tells a joke, which the Americans soak up — because it plays to the image they have of their compatriots as contemptible, ignorant boobs. An American tourist passes a statue of Schiller. He says, “Look, Goethe! Mozart! Eine kleine Nachtmusik!” Then he sings the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
My question: Why does the tourist have to be an American, as opposed to a tourist from any other country in the world? You and I know why: sheer envy and resentment — and, possibly, lurking somewhere, shame.
Since at least the 1930s, America has been, arguably, the music capital of the world: the leader in orchestras, opera companies, choruses, chamber ensembles, conservatories, and so on. Musicians from all over the world have sought to study in America, have their careers in America, pursue their destinies.
How did this start? You know why: because Germans and other Europeans pushed the best among them out, across the sea — when they couldn’t kill them first.
Not many people mention that, do they? Instead they joke about Americans’ alleged lack of culture — a stereotype that has not been true in eons, if it ever was.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Theodore Dalrymple (sub. req.) in July on the protests in Greece and Spain against "austerity measures":
[W]hat drove [the protesters] onto the streets was the realization that the whole system of subsidized employment was coming to an end just as they were joining the labor market. They were demonstrating for a continuation of the subsidies that would allow them to rob their children as they themselves had been robbed by their parents and grandparents.Similar emotions are at work in the Wisconsin unruliness and public-union agitation more generally: "It's supposed to be our turn. Why should we get nothing? It isn't fair." An understandable but childish attitude. The structure is rotten, and has to fail sometime; the sooner the better.
In National Review (subscriber-only), Mary Eberstadt reviews Paul Hollander's book Extravagant Expectations: New Ways to Find Romantic Love in America:
Hollander is surely correct in observing that the language of the marketplace, of selling oneself, has come to litter modern love — even in precincts whose inhabitants consider themselves to be free of any taint of commerce, such as that of the readers of and personals advertisers in The New York Review of Books. Noting how often women describe themselves as “stunning,” “attractive,” “very attractive,” and so on, for example, Hollander asks: “How many ‘stunning’ women such as those described . . . could be out there awaiting eager partners?” Such is not to focus unfairly on women; “men too,” he notes with the dry wit frequently on display in the book, “are capable of implausible self-presentations.”Slightly later: Hollander in an interview at FrontPage Magazine:
. . . Hollander believes that there is something peculiarly American about the “extravagant expectations” of those and other souls. In a particularly fascinating passage comparing ads in The New York Review of Books with their counterparts in the London Review of Books, he depicts the contrast between the societies as mirrored in their personals ads. Unlike the Americans, he observes, the Brits aren’t even trying to sell themselves — at least not in the same way; there, irony and self-deprecation rule instead. Witness as exemplary, “Bald, short, fat, and ugly male, 53, seeks shortsighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite.”
How did Americans come to this difficult romantic pass? Modernity, observes Hollander alongside his fellow sociologists, has frayed the bonds that once joined individuals to clan and communities quite beyond any ability to knit them back together. One consequence has been an increased reliance on the bonds to others that do remain in the hands of modern men and women — primarily, romantic bonds. And so romantic love is made to pull more weight than it ever had to before, or indeed than wiser souls ever would have assigned it. . . .
To understand the way we live now is to see, yes, that modernity has shredded the ties that once bound us to one another. But it is also to see that that shredding has been different for the different sexes. . . .
Are women who are surrounded by children and grandchildren in middle and old age as likely to feel lonely and shut out as some other women — namely, those who bought the revolution’s promises and ultimately denied themselves the rewards of family; and who are now aging coquettes embittered by their competitive disadvantages against any woman years or decades younger?
The questions seem to answer themselves.
I think the whole idea of a self-conscious pursuit of happiness is very American and modern (of course it goes back to the Founders and the 18th century and the French Enlightenment as well).
The very idea that human beings have a capacity for happiness, combined with the fuzziness of what happiness entails, is very American and it creates difficulties. The belief that we all have this capacity to be happy is highly dubious. It would be far more realistic to propose – and American society and culture provide endless examples – that human wants endlessly expand, that we have a huge capacity for dissatisfaction.
* * *
[Answering the question, "What are some of the consequences of our extravagant expectations?"] Disappointment, floundering relationships, marital instability, confusion.
Mind you, I am not suggesting that people were happier in the highly unromantic traditional societies where their families made the choices for them. Of course in those societies life for most people in general was far more difficult and survival itself was an accomplishment – ideas of happiness cannot flourish under such conditions.
* * *
I don’t think I can offer anything very original by way of advice. People looking for a durable and emotionally satisfactory relationship ought to know themselves, including their own limitations. Also, people should try to determine what human qualities really matter in the long run. I would not rank looks, money and popularity too high, not that these things are unimportant. The love life of celebrities ought to give us a pause.
Romantic love is a very good thing while it lasts but by definition it involves the idealization of one’s partner. It is not realistic to expect one person to meet all our emotional, psychological needs but it sometimes may happen. Intimacy and compatibility are certainly worthy ideals but difficult to combine with the mundane, routinized aspects of daily life.
Also, individualistic impulses have to be curbed; fantasies of self-realization are often dubious as are conceptions in our uniqueness.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Mark Steyn on the London riots:
This is the logical dead end of the Nanny State. When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the British welfare regime in 1942, his goal was the “abolition of want” to be accomplished by “co-operation between the State and the individual.” In attempting to insulate the citizenry from life’s vicissitudes, Sir William succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. . . .
Big Government means small citizens: It corrodes the integrity of a people, catastrophically. Within living memory, the city in flames on our TV screens every night governed a fifth of the earth’s surface and a quarter of its population. When you’re imperialists on that scale, there are bound to be a few mishaps along the way. But nothing the British Empire did to its subject peoples has been as total and catastrophic as what a post-great Britain did to its own.
Two items (both subscriber-only) on philosophy and religion from recent issues of National Review.
Michael Knox Beran:
Michael Knox Beran:
Peter Gay said of [philosopher Denis] Diderot that atheism “repelled him even though he accepted it as true,” while Catholicism “moved him even though he rejected it as false.” Writing to his mistress, Sophie Volland, Diderot “cursed the philosophy — his own — that reduced their love to a blind encounter of atoms. ‘I am furious at being entangled in a confounded philosophy which my mind cannot refrain from approving and my heart from denying.’”Daniel J. Mahoney:
[Reinhold] Niebuhr argued with great conviction, and no little eloquence, that Christianity offered a more truthful or “empirical” account of the nature of man than the secular alternatives, ancient, modern, and contemporary. His apologia for Christianity had the added attraction of being rooted in reflection on human nature and thus not depending on revelation per se.
In Niebuhr’s view, Christianity put forward a compellingly paradoxical view of humankind as existing at the “juncture” of nature and spirit, “perilously caught,” in [John Patrick] Diggins’s paraphrase, “between its freedom and its finitude.” . . . Diggins pungently summarizes Niebuhr’s position: “The law of love is normative, but the fact of sin is universal.”
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Peter Berkowitz, reflecting on leftists' harsh rhetoric during the debt-limit debate:
(Edited since originally posted.)
The evident panic of the progressive mind stems from a paradox as old as progressivism in America. Progressives see themselves as the only legitimate representatives of ordinary people. Yet their vision of what democracy requires frequently conflicts with what majorities believe and how they choose to live.Leftists (my preferred term) won't ever relinquish any of their beliefs. Conservatives and libertarians will need to fight them with equal relentlessness, as long as American civilization exists to be defended.
Add to this the progressive belief that human beings can be perfected through the rule of experts, and you have a recipe—when the people make choices contrary to progressive dictates—for generating contempt among the experts for the people whose interests they claim to alone represent. And not just contempt, but even disgust at diversity of opinion, which from the progressive's perspective distracts the people from the policies demanded by impartial reason.
The progressive mind is on a collision course with itself. The clash between its democratic pretensions and its authoritarian predilections has generated within its ranks seething resentment for, and rage at, conservatives. Unless progressives cultivate the enlightened virtues they publicly profess and free themselves from the dogmatic beliefs that undergird their political ambitions, we can expect even more harrowing outbursts to come.
(Edited since originally posted.)
Friday, August 5, 2011
In his manifesto, Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik listed Theodore Dalrymple among those whose writings inspired last month's massacre. Dalrymple here, here and here reflects on Breivik, the thinker's culpability and morality more generally. All worth reading. I very much liked this, from the second link, an interview of Dalrymple:
[I]f we understood each other perfectly, "we'd know exactly what each other are thinking—and that would be horrific," he insists. "At least if my thoughts are anything to go by."