Daniel Dennett is a distinguished philosopher, at least, with respect to Philosophy of Mind. As a kind of philosophical sideline, however, he follows the unfortunate example of certain other contemporary professors and operates as a polemicist on behalf of bien pensant liberalism.
Dennett recently offered this supposedly well-tempered response to the horrifying militarism of the barbarous administration of George W. Bush.
Suppose that we face some horrific, terrible enemy, another Hitler or something really, really bad, and here’s two different armies that we could use to defend ourselves. I’ll call them the Gold Army and the Silver Army; same numbers, same training, same weaponry. They’re all armored and armed as well as we can do. The difference is that the Gold Army has been convinced that God is on their side and this is the cause of righteousness, and it’s as simple as that. The Silver Army is entirely composed of economists. They’re all making side insurance bets and calculating the odds of everything.
Which army do you want on the front lines? It’s very hard to say you want the economists, but think of what that means. What you’re saying is we’ll just have to hoodwink all these young people into some false beliefs for their own protection and for ours. It’s extremely hypocritical. It is a message that I recoil from, the idea that we should indoctrinate our soldiers. In the same way that we inoculate them against diseases, we should inoculate them against the economists’—or philosophers’—sort of thinking, since it might lead to them to think: am I so sure this cause is just? Am I really prepared to risk my life to protect? Do I have enough faith in my commanders that they’re doing the right thing? What if I’m clever enough and thoughtful enough to figure out a better battle plan, and I realize that this is futile? Am I still going to throw myself into the trenches? It’s a dilemma that I don’t know what to do about, although I think we should confront it at least.
I could not avoid reflecting that, philosophically speaking, Mr. Dennett is a member of the school of Analytic Philosophy founded, twice essentially, in the course of the first half of the last century by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein was, indubitably, a neurasthenic and neurotic, a homosexual, a crank and a wet liberal goo-goo, hostile to wealth, prone to romanticizing the poor, indifferent or actively hostile to formality and tradition (try to find a photograph of Wittgenstein wearing a tie). But all his personal demons, all the balderdash that Ludwig Wittgenstein embraced did not prevent him from volunteering to serve as an officer in Austrian Army when WWI broke out.
Wittgenstein served as an artillery officer, fought on both the Russian and Italian fronts, and was awarded three major Imperial Austrian medals for valor. One commendation spoke of “[h]is exceptionally courageous behaviour, calmness, sang-froid, and heroism”, which had “won the total admiration of the troops.” Wittgenstein actually wrote much of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus while serving in the trenches.
What has happened to separate Dennett from Wittgenstein? Much more indoctrination in bad Moral Philosophy and religious heresy from which not even professional training and expertise in Analytic Philosophy suffices to inoculate the potential victim and secure immunity.
C.S. Lewis wrote a famous essay, titled The Abolition of Man, in which he describes the mind-and-soul-numbing impact of a typical liberal elementary school textbook (which he calls “The Green Book,” which systematically denies the objectivity of values, which —in other words—trains the young to be (sophisters, calculators, and) “economists,” i.e. liberal materialist conformists like Dennett.
The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius [Lewis’s fictional names of the “Green Book”’s authors] could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.
And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
Dan Greenfield takes the occasion of America’s reaffirmation of the choice of Barack Obama as president to discuss how it is possible for any country to make such a choice.
Mitt Romney, a fake authentic politician of the old school, back when politicians were working with magazine covers, snapshots and a 30 second clip, couldn’t compete against the truly fake Barack Obama, who in truly modern media style doesn’t just fake 30 seconds or 30 minutes in front of the camera, but fakes his entire life going back decades.
Obama is truly fake. He is authentically unreal. There is absolutely nothing to him. If you take away all the work that was done to make him famous, there would be nothing there. And that is exactly why he is the perfect avatar for the media age. ...
America is being run by a Made in Indonesia leader whose performance is as bad as any of the Made in Indonesia, Pakistan or China crap you’ll find in Wal-Mart. And it doesn’t matter because he’s a brand. The savvier younger and urban voters don’t care what he’s made of, they care how he makes them feel. They may lose their job the next day and their prospects for paying off their college loans may be missing, but if it makes them feel good at the point of polling, then that’s what matters.
When all products are bad, then all that matters is how they feel. When everything can be deconstructed into a lie, then you embrace the lie that feels the most fakely real, even knowing that it will one day be exposed on another episode of Oprah as a lie.
Those who believe in nothing are the most gullible because they will fall for anything. Those without faith are always looking to believe in something or someone. Those who have never known value or quality are always looking to pick up a product that communicates value and quality to them, even while they retain no metric for assessing either one. Instead of learning the metric, they follow the brand, they become savvy brand-spotters, rather than knowledgeable buyers. And when they brand lets them down, then the brand apologizes, the emotions are soothed, and the low information voter turns to the big screen for another messiah.
In a culture where character no longer matters, competition loses all meaning. A lie is no longer a lie, it is not wrong in and of itself. A failure no longer matters if it makes people feel good. And the idea of leadership no longer exists, only the imitation of it. The faint media echo of the values of what was once a great civilization singing itself to sleep.
Dan Greenfield has another of his intelligent essays full of unpalatable truth.
[T]he West has been headed out of the territory of reason for some time now. Its truths have become ideological beliefs. Its goals have become the self-worship of its own symbols, size for the sake of size, and centralization for the sake of centralization. There is a mingled horror and longing for the savage and the barbaric, as civilization appears to have lost its meaning. The leadership cries “Onward to a united world” on the one hand, and “Back to the caves” on the other. That confused melange boils down to a cultural intelligence which has lost the awareness of its own contradictions. High tech environmentalism, soft wars and valueless money are all symptoms of that same intellectual degeneracy.
The rise of China is directly tied to our own irrationality. The People’s Republic of China has become rich and powerful by serving as the reservoir of our contradictions. We wanted cheap products, no pollution, high wages and generous benefits. All these things are not compatible, so we outsourced our manufacturing to China and pretended that we could have it all. But all we got were cheap products, and the country we outsourced them to got the jobs and the national prosperity. We wanted to spend money without worrying about where it came from. Again we turned to China. And like the grasshopper and the ant, we sang and played all summer, while the ants worked and prepared for the winter.
We used China to escape the limits of reality, but there is no escape. Only temporary vacations from consequences.
The election of Islamic Party municipal councilors in several towns in Belgian is provoking controversy, as the newly elected officials do not bother to conceal their intentions to use democratic means to overthrow democracy and turn Belgium into an Islamic state operating on the basis of Sharia law.
Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la décadence [Romans in the Period of Decadence], 1847, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
And even Ross Douthat begins to recognize in the distance the final stop at end of the rail line of progressive modernism.
It’s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility. ...
American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered. Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that U.S. birthrates hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2011, with just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. (The rate was 71 per 1,000 in 1990.) For the first time in recent memory, Americans are having fewer babies than the French or British. ...
Beneath… policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.
Betsey Woodruff, in National Review, identifies Lena Dunham’s HBO comedy Girls as a cultural canary-in-the-coal-mine which, if observed carefully, could have told you where the recent presidential election was heading.
At its core, Girls feels like a deliberate, dissective examination of a group of people who stubbornly refuse to grow up and are lucky enough to be able to pull it off. The main thing Dunham’s characters share is the idea that just because they exist, somebody else should give them stuff. In and of itself, depicting that isn’t at all a bad thing. Girls is an interesting project, it’s well executed, and it can be really, really funny. Look, I like Girls, and I’m excited about the second season.
But Dunham’s stupid little YouTube ad for the president might have ruined it all for me. That’s because she sounds like she’s channeling her character, Invasion of the Body Snatchers–style. They share the same baffling, naïvely egomaniacal understanding of justice — they both seem to think that because they exist, the universe needs to make sure that all the sex they choose to have is consequence-free.
You can almost argue that Lena Dunham sees President Obama as the perfect surrogate for everything missing in her characters’ lives: He’s their gentle lover, supportive parent, and empathetic friend. He’s special. He won’t let them down. He’s Prince Charming. And that kind of defeats the purpose of feminism.
You’d think the feminist elevation of agency would result in women who take pride in being responsible for their own bodies. You’d hope that telling women that they can do whatever they want would imply that they’re responsible for what they do. You’d think serious feminists would argue that true empowerment is something you lay claim to, not something the federal government dispenses in all its benevolence. But for Dunham, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
In fact, for all practical purposes, the patriarchy no longer decides whom American women can sleep with and when. That’s great. But if you don’t want men in Washington telling you how to use your sexuality, you shouldn’t expect them to subsidize it. But Dunham seems to actually believe they should. Dunham makes tons of money, and I’m quite confident she can afford to pay for her own birth control. But she doesn’t seem to take pride in that; it’s not what her characters aspire to, and given her foray into the delightful world of presidential-election ads, it doesn’t seem to be something she aspires to, either.
Second-wave feminists lionized the independent woman who paid her own rent and busted through glass ceilings and ran for Congress. Being totally self-sufficient was the goal. The idea was that women didn’t need men, whether those men were their fathers or husbands or boyfriends or presidents. By contrast, Dunham’s new vision of women as lady parts with ballots is infantilizing and regressive.
So Girls isn’t the eschaton, and neither is one vapid YouTube video. But if Dunham’s show were a metaphorical canary in a metaphorical coal mine, it would be struggling pretty hard right now. There’s a reason it’s called Girls, not Women.
Thomas Couture, The Thorny Path, 1873, Philadelphia Museum of Art
“The Thorny Path is Couture’s satire of decadent French society. A courtesan drives a carriage pulled not by animals but by four male captives who represent different ages and states of society. The naked old man leading the procession is flabby from indulgence; the troubadour following him, a symbol of young love, parodies the medieval ballads popular in nineteenth century France. The old soldier bends his head in self-reproach, and the young student writes as he walks, symbolizing the educated nobility’s ignorance of the realities of daily life. The thistles and thorny plants along the road suggest the painfulness of their journey. The decrepit figure seated at the rear of the carriage with a bottle of wine in her basket foreshadows the courtesan’s future. Finally, Couture signed his initials on the stone figure at center, which seems to be laughing at the entourage.”
Damien Hirst, Crematorium [a giant ashtray filled with cigarette butts and packets], Tate Gallery, London
“’Charles,’ said Cordelia, ‘Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?’
Not all Modern Art is bosh really, but an ever-increasing percentage certainly is. How did it come to this? Jacob Willer, in an absolutely brilliant essay in Standpoint magazine, explains how the ideology of Romantic Rousseauianism has transformed the art schools and, along with them, most artists’ abilities and goals. Today, nobody learns to draw or paint at Art School. When you mess up a print, the instructor applauds your spontaneous expression and awards your blunder top marks.
[T]he brochure of one prestigious art school reads:
The course… encourages you to test the boundaries of drawing practice… You will be asked to explore drawing as an end in itself as well as a means for exploring other modes of art practice such as sculpture, installation, performance and film … the course offers a distinct approach to drawing fine art practice.
“Test the boundaries of drawing” means to do anything but drawing. Exploring drawing “as a means for exploring other modes of art practice such as sculpture, installation, performance and film” really means dissolving drawing into everything else, and calling everything else drawing, until drawing has been redefined, and defined out of existence — till it can mean pins and strings and bus-rides. A “distinct approach to drawing” indeed, but sadly, it is “distinct” in many art schools today.
My head of painting did writing, albeit on canvas, and the head of sculpture did performances which he sometimes filmed. I remember a fellow student once “testing the boundaries” of painting, and no doubt using it to “explore other modes of art practice”, by hanging a torn blank canvas on the wall through which protruded a pink plastic vibrating penis. I found it impossible not to laugh as we were gathered to contemplate this “piece” and the head of the school pronounced that it had a certain pathos. But, comedy aside, note that paint was nowhere involved, although this was the painting term. The violated canvas was judged a sufficient reference to the accoutrements of painting, and irreverent enough to be passed as “painting” — and four full weeks’ painting at that.
Matt Feeney, in the New Yorker, takes a fresh look at Bloom’s Straussian jeremiad of 1987 and observes that the relativism of the 1960s era seems no longer to be the same kind of problem. Kids at elite universities today are not relativists. They are instead commonly hyper-engagée moral perfectionists, brainwashed from the time they were toddlers into intense preoccupation with all the ersatz moral concerns of the bien pensant haute bourgeoisie community.
[T]he moral disenchantment that Bloom called relativism is not the problem it was in 1987. Indeed, college-bound American kids now grow up in world that is almost medieval in its degree of moral enchantment. Their moral reflex is anxiously conditioned to an ever-growing list of worries and provocations: smoking, safe sex, chastity, patriotism, faith, religious freedom, bullying, diversity, drugs, crime, violence, obesity, binge drinking. Almost no problem goes un-talked about, un-taught from, un-ruled on. These lessons are convincingly yoked to real-life concerns about safety, health, and happiness, not to mention all those things that, as the song says, will go down on their permanent records.
For kids entering college fully trained in this liturgy of prudence and niceness, which I am anxiously imparting to my own young children, it’s not Bloom’s censoriousness they will resist. It’s his decadence. ...
Bloom’s esoteric project asks today’s students to estrange themselves from an identity that they, their parents, and their teachers, along with their ministers and rabbis and shrinks, their camp counselors and art tutors and soccer coaches, have been constructing since these kids were born, and with a degree of political and moral awareness that everyone involved is darned proud of. These are good kids. Try telling a college sophomore who founded his school’s anti-sweatshop movement that his enthusiasms are callow, his convictions harmful to a true education of the soul, and that he should instead join you on a freaky trip into the true mind of Thucydides.
Anne Merritt complacently describes a list of skills which today’s millenials are apparently content to go without. Her list includes using a standard transmission (no real sports cars for you, kiddies!), cooking anything from scratch (no real food either), building anything, fixing anything, penmanship, and even sharpening a knife.
A man should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
——————————————— SHARPENING A KNIFE
The best method is to use a flat stone. Ideally, to do a really excellent job on a very dull knife, you want three stones: in order of coarseness, a coarse carborundum, a soft Washita stone, and a hard black Arkansas stone, but you can pick up a flat rock off the ground and use it if you have nothing better.
Wet the stone. A light machine oil is best, but water, even spit, will do.
Take your knife and pretend that you are trying to cut a thin slice off the stone, cutting away from you. Do one side and then the other. The angle you want is quite effectively approximated by pretending to be cutting a thin slice off the stone.
Obviously, if you have coarser and finer stones, you start with the coarse and end with the finer stone. Hard black Arkansas
stones are expensive, but you can produce the finest finished edges with one of those.
High-end custom knife makers, like Randall, commonly supply small medium India whetstone in a pouch outside the sheath. One little India stone of that sort is basically adequate.
...for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain.
In the New York Times, Princeton’s professional ethicist supreme Peter Singer admires the work of antinatalist South African philosopher David Benatar:
Schopenhauer’s pessimism has had few defenders over the past two centuries, but one has recently emerged, in the South African philosopher David Benatar, author of a fine book with an arresting title: “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.” One of Benatar’s arguments trades on something like the asymmetry noted earlier. To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.
Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.
Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.
So why don’t we make ourselves the Last Generation on Earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction! ...
Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?
I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?
Friedrich Nietszche (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1883-1885, prologue, §5) predicted with complete accuracy that the result of nihilism would be Benatars and Singers.
Alas! There cometh the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There cometh the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.
Lo! I show you THE LAST MAN.
“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?”—so asketh the last man and blinketh.
The earth hath then become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man liveth longest.
“We have discovered happiness”—say the last men, and blink thereby.
They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loveth one’s neighbour and rubbeth against him; for one needeth warmth.
Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbleth over stones or men!
A little poison now and then: that maketh pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death.
One still worketh, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.
One no longer becometh poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wanteth to rule? Who still wanteth to obey? Both are too burdensome.
No shepherd, and one herd! Every one wanteth the same; every one is equal: he who hath other sentiments goeth voluntarily into the madhouse.
“Formerly all the world was insane,”—say the subtlest of them, and blink thereby.
They are clever and know all that hath happened: so there is no end to their raillery. People still fall out, but are soon
reconciled—otherwise it spoileth their stomachs.
They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.
“We have discovered happiness,”—say the last men, and blink thereby.
Mark Steyn argues that it can happen here, that the ideology of the left can alter the national character and turn a nation of self reliant individualists into whining clients of a socialist nanny state in terminal decline, and Barack Obama is here to prove it.
[W]hat are we to make of the British? They were on the right side of all the great conflicts of the last century; and they have been, in the scales of history, a force for good in the world. Even as their colonies advanced to independence, they retained the English language and English legal system, not to mention cricket and all kinds of other cultural ties. And even in imperial retreat, there is no rational basis for late-20th-century Britain’s conclusion that it had no future other than as an outlying province of a centralized Euro nanny state dominated by nations whose political, legal, and cultural traditions are entirely alien to its own. The embrace of such a fate is a psychological condition, not an economic one.
Is America set for decline? It’s been a grand run. The country’s been the leading economic power since it overtook Britain in the 1880s. That’s impressive. Nevertheless, over the course of that century and a quarter, Detroit went from the world’s industrial powerhouse to an urban wasteland, and the once-golden state of California atrophied into a land of government run by the government for the government. What happens when the policies that brought ruin to Detroit and sclerosis to California become the basis for the nation at large? Strictly on the numbers, the United States is in the express lane to Declinistan: unsustainable entitlements, the remorseless governmentalization of the economy and individual liberty, and a centralization of power that will cripple a nation of this size. Decline is the way to bet. But what will ensure it is if the American people accept decline as a price worth paying for European social democracy.
Is that so hard to imagine? Every time I retail the latest indignity imposed upon the “citizen” by some or other Continental apparatchik, I receive e-mails from the heartland pointing out, with much reference to the Second Amendment, that it couldn’t happen here because Americans aren’t Euro-weenies. But nor were Euro-weenies once upon a time. Hayek’s greatest insight in The Road to Serfdom is psychological: “There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought,” he wrote with an immigrant’s eye on the Britain of 1944. “It is that the virtues which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those on which the British people justly prided themselves and in which they were generally agreed to excel. The virtues possessed by Anglo-Saxons in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch, were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one’s neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.” Two-thirds of a century on, almost every item on the list has been abandoned, from “independence and self-reliance” (40 percent of people receive state handouts) to “a healthy suspicion of power and authority” — the reflex response now to almost any passing inconvenience is to demand the government “do something,” the cost to individual liberty be damned. American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer a similar expansion of government and not witness, in enough of the populace, the same descent into dependency and fatalism. As Europe demonstrates, a determined state can change the character of a people in the space of a generation or two. Look at what the Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population: That’s what happened in Britain. ...
In the modern era, the two halves of “the West” form a mirror image. “The Old World” has thousand-year-old churches and medieval street plans and ancient hedgerows but has been distressingly susceptible to every insane political fad, from Communism to Fascism to European Union. “The New World” has a superficial novelty — you can have your macchiato tweeted directly to your iPod — but underneath the surface noise it has remained truer to old political ideas than “the Old World” ever has. Economic dynamism and political continuity seem far more central to America’s sense of itself than they are to most nations’. Which is why it’s easier to contemplate Spain or Germany as a backwater than America. In a fundamental sense, an America in eclipse would no longer be America.
But, as Charles Krauthammer said recently, “decline is a choice.” The Democrats are offering it to the American people, and a certain proportion of them seem minded to accept. Enough to make decline inevitable? To return to the young schoolboy on his uncle’s shoulders watching the Queen-Empress’s jubilee, in the words of Arnold Toynbee: “Civilizations die from suicide, not from murder.”
There are certain little details that bring home to traveler the fact that he really is in a foreign country. One of these which frequently strikes Americans is the way, in European countries where the citizens are typically completely legally disarmed, the cops stroll around carrying machine guns.
The American thinks of his own police armed normally only with a pistol, and feels something akin to the way the Edwardian Englishman did about living in a country in which police officers only carried a truncheon.
Well, the recent Moscow subway bombings provoked New York City authorities to leap into action and dispatch an elite squad of officers with helmets, goggles, and fully automatic M16 assault rifles to ride the city’s subway trains.
That will show those terrorists! Try reaching under your clothing to detonate your suicide vest, and that Hercules squad stormtrooper will pull his goggles down, check to see that his body armor is securely fastened, and then spray the entire car with high velocity .223 rounds. After that, it won’t even be necessary to use the bomb.
I find the machine gun-toting cops on New York subways development symbolically appropriate. We are, after all, now just one more European-style welfare state committed to cradle to the grave benefits for everyone. We prefer equality to opportunity and growth. The state is our keeper. Our cops should all have machine guns. The state is our master and they are its representatives. They require enormous firepower to keep all of us in line.
Christopher Buckley, Class of ’75, son of the late William F., Class of ’50, paused to pour himself a “stiff one” and dashed off an e-mail to another alumnus: “OMFG!” ...
James Goodale, Class of ’55, and a former general counsel for the Times, made it through all seventeen minutes—more collegians bursting into song, accompanied by “Up with People”-style dance numbers, and even some electric-guitar shredding in the art gallery—before reporting that the production seemed “intended for an audience that I couldn’t divine.” He added, “My God, if you’re a hockey player, you think, I’ll go to Princeton.” ...
“Halfway in, I said, ‘These people are kidding,’ ” the former Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham, Class of ’56, recalled the other day. “Then I realized, ‘No, they’re not.’ And I was depressed.”...
“It’s a variation on Marie Antoinette in the garden of Versailles. I’m surprised they didn’t dress the girls as shepherdesses. In the ancien régime, this is the kind of thing that would have prompted the French Revolution. Are we supposed to send this to struggling youths in Asia and Africa?”
John Rogers, Class of ’84, and the English department’s resident Milton scholar [reacts:]
It’s the God-damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. ...
Milton would be absolutely and perfectly appalled by this. ...
Yale is saturated in an ironic mode that your parents can’t understand. ... This is aristocratic and privileged irony—an aristocracy not of moneyed fathers but of generational ironic sensibility: ‘I can speak with more quotation marks around my nouns and verbs than you.’