In 1905, we had gold money, like this $20 Double Eagle.
I’m right about Immigration, and unfortunately much of the rest of the Right, El Rushbo, Michelle Malkin, Victor Davis Hanson, Charles Krauthammer, John Hinderaker, and so on ad inifinitum are wrong, and I’m prepared to prove it.
Lights on in your heads, so-called conservatives, and pay attention. I’m going to deliver a series of arguments, and I’m going to demolish the nativist arguments one by one.
Let’s start off by properly identifying what kind of policy on immigration is the authentic American traditional policy and what is the nature and etiology of our current immigration laws.
One common rubric in my own thinking on American politics and public policy consists of asking myself: How did we used to do things?
I am firmly persuaded that, in all sorts of areas, Americans used to do things right, but along came Progressivism, small-l liberalism, socialism, crankery, and Modernism, and today we go around living under dysfunctional institutions, operated commonly on the basis of illusions and bad ideas, and we live buried under a colossal pile of taxes and regulations which our ancestors would never have put up with.
What is the correct policy on the currency? We ought to have the kind of currency we had back in 1905, real money minted in gold and silver or paper certificates immediately exchangeable for real money, ideally with images of Indians, Liberty, and Big Game animals on all our coins.
So, tell me, nativists, how did we used to handle immigration in the good old days when America was America and the country was free and ruled by common sense?
The answer is that, before 1900, immigration (with the exception of non-European racial groups believed in the period to be unassimilable) was unregulated. If you weren’t Chinese or Japanese and you wanted to come to the USA to get ahead, the door was wide open. In 1903, the kind of terrorism afflicting Europe and America at the time produced the Anarchist Exclusion Act. That act prohibited immigration to the United States by Anarchists, epileptics, beggars, and pimps.
We didn’t even have standard Naturalization forms and procedures until the passage of the Naturalization Act of 1906, which for the first time required some knowledge of English for Naturalization and which formalized and federalized the Naturalization process.
So, federal administration of immigration really began in 1906. And the really meaningful restrictions on Immigration were passed, out of panic inspired by the rise of Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution, in 1921 (the Emergency Quota Act) and in 1924 (the Johnson Act). It was these laws which set annual limits on the numbers of people who could enter, which limits were originally small percentages of the numbers of persons from particular countries already resident in the United States.
Here’s a major news flash, fellow conservatives. The 1920s laws placed no quotas on immigration from the Western Hemisphere. All the Mexicans and Salvadorans who wanted to come here could do so, until the Hart-Callar Act of 1965, which repealed the old racial exclusions and the 1920s quota system. Limiting immigration racially and on the basis of current representation in the US population was, in the Civil Rights era, deemed politically incorrect and “an embarrassment.” The new law opened the door to immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
So, what is the real status of our respective positions?
I favor going back to the old, traditional American virtually-unregulated pre-1906 regime. I’d favor going back farther, but I think we have a need to exclude Muslims resembling the need in the early 1900s to exclude Anarchists. I support the real historical, traditional American open door immigration policy.
The rest of you folks are jumping up and down, supporting federally-managed population engineering, federal interference with the free movement of labor, and federal violation of the basic right to offer and accept employment, and government coercive resistance to organic and voluntary economic processes, all on behalf of some kind of half-baked notions of preserving an imaginary and impossible-to-preserve point of population and cultural stasis. You are enthusiastically supporting Progressive Era Statism and, even worse, the policies of a really bad 1960s democrat-passed immigration law, while I want to go right back to 1905. Obviously, I’m the real conservative, and the rest of you fellows, even poor old Rush, have gotten yourselves muddled and confused about what the real conservative position actually is.
This is long enough for now. I’ll discuss some of the anti-immigration arguments, like the “law-and-order” argument, in later postings.
Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History, retired last month after 44 years at Yale. He delivered a memorable Farewell Address, previously only available as a very, very long video, which now may be read at one’s own convenience thanks to the New Criterion.
My subject is liberal education, and today more than ever the term requires definition, especially as to the questions: What is a liberal education and what it is for? From Cicero’s artes liberales, to the attempts at common curricula in more recent times, to the chaotic cafeteria that passes for a curriculum in most American universities today, the concept has suffered from vagueness, confusion, and contradiction. From the beginning, the champions of a liberal education have thought of it as seeking at least four kinds of goals. One was as an end in itself, or at least as a way of achieving that contemplative life that Aristotle thought was the greatest happiness. Knowledge and the acts of acquiring and considering it were the ends of this education and good in themselves. A second was as a means of shaping the character, the style, the taste of a person—to make him good and better able to fit in well with and take his place in the society of others like him. A third was to prepare him for a useful career in the world, one appropriate to his status as a free man. For Cicero and Quintilian, this meant a career as an orator that would allow a man to protect the private interests of himself and his friends in the law courts and to advance the public interest in the assemblies, senate, and magistracies. The fourth was to contribute to the individual citizen’s freedom in ancient society. Servants were ignorant and parochial, so free men must be learned and cosmopolitan; servants were ruled by others, so free men must take part in their own government; servants specialized to become competent at some specific and limited task, so free men must know something of everything and understand general principles without yielding to the narrowness of expertise. The Romans’ recommended course of study was literature, history, philosophy, and rhetoric.
It was once common to think of the medieval university as very different, as a place that focused on learning for its own sake. But the medieval universities, whatever their commitment to learning for its own sake, were institutions that trained their students for professional careers. Graduates in the liberal arts were awarded a certificate that was a license to teach others what they had learned and to make a living that way. For some, the study of liberal arts was preliminary to professional study in medicine, theology, or law and was part of the road to important positions in church and state.
Clarice Feldman imagines the revelry as Washington’s trial lawyer establishment looks forward to the hefty retainer checks flowing from Obama Administration scandals.
After running an errand at the Courthouse, I decided to pop into the Barrister Bar and Bistro for a quick bite. The place was packed and Charlie, the maitre d’, shrugged his shoulders apologetically. “There’s a huge party here this afternoon, but I can seat you at the bar if you don’t mind.”
I didn’t mind and was happy to see that my favorite bartender, Joe, was at work,
“Place is jammed. I’ve never seen it so packed. What’s up?” I asked as Joe placed my vodka tonic in front of me. “Looks like every former U.S. Attorney in town is here.”
He pressed in closer so that he wouldn’t be overheard.
“Celebration of the scandals. They are about to make more money defending these clowns than they ever dreamed of. Second terms are always more lucrative for them than first, but this is the ultimate jackpot. Like winning the Powerball.”
The bar was mirrored so even with my back to the crowd I could see what was going on. In the center of the room at a round table sat one of the president’s biggest campaign bundlers, an extremely well garbed man—hand-tailored navy suit, lustrous silk tie, crisp shirt and glittering cufflinks—with a great haircut. He was seated with a group of well-sloshed men and women all of whom were drinking heartily.
Suddenly everyone stood up for the toast.
“Here’s to George,” began his colleague. “We asked why we should support Obama after that disastrous first term and he said, ‘Cast your crumbs upon the water and you’ll get fig newtons back.’”
“And he was right!” came a shout from the rear and a wild round of applause followed.
Aside from the circular table in the middle where George and his cronies sat, there were seven tables.
“What are the colored badges for?” I asked.
“They signify which scandal defendants they are representing so they can exchange useful procedural and related information without disclosing who they are representing or breaching client confidentiality. The orange tag means the attorney is representing someone in the Benghazi scandal.”
“I see seven—probably Petraeus, Clinton, Rice, Donilon, Brennan, Nuland, Rhodes. And the blue badge?” I asked, sipping the drink.
“IRS scandal,” George whispered, wiping the counter to appear more inconspicuous.
“Hmm,” I thought, “Shulman, Ingram, Miller, Lerner, and some others to be named at a later date. And the red badge?”
“Small table—must be Justice officials on the Associated Press scandal.”
Henry Grady Weaver (1889–1949) worked as a mechanic, salesman, and draftsman before becoming director of customer research for General Motors. He was placed on the cover of the November 14, 1938 issue of Time magazine.
“Most of the major ills of the world have been caused by well-meaning people who ignored the principle of individual freedom, except as applied to themselves, and who were obsessed with fanatical zeal to improve the lot of mankind-in-the-mass through some pet formula of their own. The harm done by ordinary criminals, murderers, gangsters, and thieves is negligible in comparison with the agony inflicted upon human beings by the professional do-gooders, who attempt to set themselves up as gods on earth and who would ruthlessly force their views on all others with the abiding assurance that the end justifies the means.”
In Salon, Brian Kim Stefans discusses a new book by “Speculative Realist” philosopher Graham Harman (who teaches at the American University in Cairo, not at Miskatonic), which attempts to identify the early 20th century author of pulp horror stories as a literary philosophic opponent of Kantian Phenomenalism, materialism, and linguistic analysis.
Evidently, Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man gibber und kreischen über von einer Band aus amorphem Flötenspieler Begleitet.What we cannot speak about, we must gibber and shriek about, accompanied by a band of amorphous flute-players.
Few movements in recent philosophy have had as startling a rise as that of the writers loosely grouped under the heading “Speculative Realists.” Attention to this movement, which includes Harman, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Levi Bryant, and Quentin Meillassoux… is growing exponentially, not just in universities but also among the unaffiliated continental philosophy junkies who troll the blogosphere. The one principle that is inarguably shared by these philosophers is quite simple: they wish to retrieve philosophy from a tendency initiated, or at least made unavoidable, by the work of Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that the subject (meaning a human being) can ever know anything about the external world due to the very fact of subjectivity. For him, reality is always mediated by cognition, and the thinkable has a basic handicap: it is just thought. Nothing comes from outside into the mind, in other words, that is not turned into thought; the radical epistemologist argues that all we can know lies in the firm foundations of what is available to the senses, while the radical idealist argues that nothing remains in this thinking of whatever it was that spawned the thought, leaving one at the impasse of believing that all of reality is virtual, a bunch of mental actions. The result, according to the speculative realists, is that philosophy since Kant has been stuck with making this very mind→object relationship the locus and subject of philosophy, thus shutting down the project of metaphysics, the search for absolute laws beyond what can be established by experimental science.
Quentin Meillassoux has dubbed this mind→object relationship — the impasse that is at the heart of the Kantian tradition — “correlationism,” and the term has become a rallying cry for speculative realists. Harman’s philosophy displaces the mind→object relationship with that of object→object, the “mind” being just one object among many. Oddly, though Meillassoux names correlationism as the primary curse of the Kantian tradition, he also seems the most devoted of his peers to preserving the best part of it by making it the one place where he claims anything like an absolute exists. To Meillassoux (who, coincidentally or consequently, is also a fan of Lovecraft), the universe is not characterized by necessity (God-given or inevitable laws) but by a radical contingency, a “hyper-chaos” amidst which the only thing that could be seen as absolute is the mind→object relationship itself. ....
In Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, Harman enlists Lovecraft in his battle with epistemology and materialism — Lovecraft himself expressed loathing for normative science, and certainly had no love for legitimate academics — but also against correlationism: the conviction that all the mind could ever know are purely mental phenomena, which ultimately led (and here we are brushing with broad strokes) to the so-called “linguistic” turn of much 20th-century philosophy (most characteristically that of Wittgenstein and Derrida). To that extent, Lovecraft’s failure to engage in the linguistic experimentation of his high Modernist contemporaries does not make him some kind of recalcitrant provincial, but rather a sensible (if xenophobic) voyager who simply did not want to make the claim that language was all there was. Lovecraft’s language “fails” only insofar as the narrators fail to get into words, to journalize, some experience that simply cannot be fully available to the meager human senses and mind. For the most part, Lovecraft is happy to use language as a simple, functional tool, rather than to insist at every moment through linguistic estrangement — like, say, a Stein or a Beckett — that language is not what you think it is (and, consequently, that language is everything). For Lovecraft, it’s the universe, not language, that is not what you think it is. So what is it then? Well, weird.
Weird Realism opens with an idiosyncratic set of short essays that lay out the method of the book. Harman notes that there is a choice that philosophers generally make between being a “destroyer of gaps” — those who want to reduce reality to a simple principle — and “creators of gaps” — those who point to those areas to which we will possibly never have access. He deems the latter “productionists” (in contrast to reductionists) and writes: “If we apply this distinction to imaginative writers, then H.P. Lovecraft is clearly a productionist author. No other writer is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess.”
Giving up a little liberty is something we agree to when we agree to live in a democratic society that is governed by laws.
The freedom to buy a really large soda, all in one cup, is something we stand to lose here. For most people, given their desire for health, that results in a net gain. For some people, yes, it’s an absolute loss. It’s just not much of a loss.
Of course, what people fear is that this is just the beginning: today it’s soda, tomorrow it’s the guy standing behind you making you eat your broccoli, floss your teeth, and watch “PBS NewsHour” every day. What this ignores is that successful paternalistic laws are done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: if it’s too painful, it’s not a good law. Making these analyses is something the government has the resources to do, just as now it sets automobile construction standards while considering both the need for affordability and the desire for safety.
Do we care so much about our health that we want to be forced to go to aerobics every day and give up all meat, sugar and salt? No. But in this case, it’s some extra soda. Banning a law on the grounds that it might lead to worse laws would mean we could have no laws whatsoever.
In the old days we used to blame people for acting imprudently, and say that since their bad choices were their own fault, they deserved to suffer the consequences. Now we see that these errors aren’t a function of bad character, but of our shared cognitive inheritance. The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another.
That’s what the government is supposed to do, help us get where we want to go. It’s not always worth it to intervene, but sometimes, where the costs are small and the benefit is large, it is. That’s why we have prescriptions for medicine. And that’s why, as irritating as it may initially feel, the soda regulation is a good idea. It’s hard to give up the idea of ourselves as completely rational. We feel as if we lose some dignity. But that’s the way it is, and there’s no dignity in clinging to an illusion.
La Conly’s argument (in both her book and this editorial) really boils down to the claim (based on behaviorist social science, no less) that people are incompetent, make bad choices, and have difficulty recognizing their own best interests. Therefore, Conly says these other people over here, the ones who attended Princeton, who have important official titles and positions, know better what is good for everyone; and you ordinary people over there, you dimbulbs and dufi, should be willing to surrender (just a little) liberty here and some other liberty there, when those wiser and better, and more prestigiously and officially placed, than you decide that it is time to lay down the law and tell you what to do, for your own good.
Speaking philosophically, I went to Yale (which outranks Princeton all day long), so I get to point out to Professor Conly that in reality, the behaviorist social sciences prove that our Mandarins, politicians, and experts are just as fallibly human as everyone else, and are also subject to errors produced by biases toward short-term satisfaction and unrealistic optimism, particularly—in their case—optimism about their own capacities, objectivity, and motivations. Platonic Guardians tend to think that they are being disinterested and only trying to maximize everyone’s well being, while all the while they are busily gathering greater powers and control over the lives and fortunes of others to themselves. The best political philosophers are those, like Jefferson and Madison, who recognize the fact that no one enjoys the kind of superiority of perspective which entitles him or her to prescribe to someone else what he ought to do inside his own private sphere of liberty.
Ted Cruz got himself described as “the new McCarthy” by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker for asking Chuck Hagel about accepting speaker fees from North Korea. Mayer then dug deeper, and disclosed that, two and half years ago at a 4th of July speech, Cruz reminisced about his days at Harvard Law School (1992-1995), observing that Barack Obama would make a perfect president of Harvard’s Law School, which in Cruz’s time had “fewer Republicans than communists.”
Bill O’Reilly and Mitt Romney both also spent time at the little institution on the Charles, and both of them have also recently had critical things to say about Harvard’s characteristic politics and influence.
Well, you can only take so much, and the editors of the Harvard Crimson struck back this week, openly urging conservatives dissenters not even to apply for admission.
If you think Harvard is a revolutionary communist hotbed, don’t apply. If you think Harvard is full of “pinheaded” professors, don’t enroll. And if you think Harvard pollutes the minds of its students, don’t walk out of here with a degree—and certainly don’t get two.
As Daniel Webster might have said: “It’s a bright-red, anti-American school, stuffed to the rafters with bolshies peddling pin-headed, crack-brained ideas, but some love it.”
The always-combative Ann Coulter takes on John Stossel before an audience of liberaltarian kiddies, whose prime issues happen to be legalized pot and Gay Marriage.
I’m a libertarian myself, and entirely in favor of abolishing all drug laws, but I do agree with Ann Coulter that there are currently larger issues under contention. I also agree with her that soi disant “libertarians” today far too commonly are a lot more interested in cosying up to the left-wing community of fashion on social issues than fighting against Socialism and Statism. I think she is quite right in calling them pussies.
As to Gay Marriage, Coulter is again perfectly right. Universal Marriage Equality currently exists. Everyone has exactly the same right to marry as anybody else.
It is not “equality” to redefine a fundamental institution in order to gratify the fantasies and pretensions of a subculture self-organised on the basis of a shared penchant for participating in sexually perverted activities.
Gay Marriage is not about equality. It is about securing formal recognition and approval of sexual perversity by government and making the moral and social equality of inversion enforceable by the state. And, like Ann Coulter, my own position is to hell with that. The rest of us may owe the sodomitically-inclined tolerance of private activities involving consenting adults, but we do not owe them public approval or the coercive modification of the moral opinions of American society in general.
One wishes this debate had been better-formatted and more substantive, but Coulter’s “take no prisoners” approach is always fun to watch.
Sarah O. Conly kayaks when she isn’t busy planning to run your life.
Sarah Conly recently had a full-year sabbatical, which she spent vacationing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and in Oaxaca, Mexico. When not engaged in tourism or dining out, Ms. Conly busied herself with writing the next big leftist book.
That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant . . . Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
Sarah Conly went to Princeton, did her graduate work at Cornell, and teaches Philosophy at Bowdoin. Professor Conly consequently believes that she knows better than you do. She believes that your personal freedom, your right to make your own decisions in areas affecting only yourself is “overrated.” The notion that you are entitled to liberty and autonomy, you see, is based, according to Ms. Conly on grossly exaggerated estimates of your personal competence and rationality.
Ms. Conly can prove that you are an idiot using evidence from psychology and behavioral economics which she concludes demonstrates that most of you out there—the people who don’t get fellowships to St. Andrews or write books while vacationing in Oaxaca—are clueless dolts afflicted with “present bias” and unrealistic optimism. There you have it. Social science proves that you are unworthy and unfit, and that you need the guidance of superior and more enlightened beings, like Sarah O. Conly, to keep you from playing with matches or cutting yourself with sharp objects.
In the Conlyian state, application of coercive force by government is not only desirable, but obligatory, anytime it can be established by the sophistry, calculations, or economic analysis of people like herself that the benefits justify the costs.
How is coercive paternalistic intervention justified? Conly offers four supposed tests: (1) the personal liberty being banned must be genuinely destructive of people’s self-defined long-term ends. (2) The coercive measures must be successful. (3) Their benefits must exceed their costs. (4) The coercive measures under contemplation must be more effective than non-coercive alternatives.
I’m working from Cass Sunstein’s New York Review of Books review, and I do not have Professor Conly’s actual text on-hand. (I’m certainly not going to pay $95 for it either.) But, even without her complete argument in view, it seems obvious to me that her criteria are intrinsically open-ended.
In the case of Number 1, the proposed coercer will always have to usurp the privilege of reading the coercees’ minds and defining those long-term ends. In reality, long-term ends vary, some people would perversely reject long-term ends in favor of short-term ends, and long-term ends may, sometimes, conflict. I think I know that Professor Conly would be disposed, for example, to ban private gun ownership… for all our own good. But owning lots of guns is, in my view, very decidedly part of my long-term ends, and I would reject Professor Conly’s perspective that private ownership of guns is so dangerous that it must inevitably be inimical to my long-term goals of personal survival and public safety. She and I are bound to disagree on item one.
In the case of 2, libertarians like myself would argue that most forms of paternalistic coercion will inevitably prove unsuccessful. Look at Alcohol Prohibition. Look at Drug Prohibition. Look at Immigration Prohibition.
With regard to Number 3, we are bound again to disagree on costs, because it is perfectly obvious that some of us consider the violation of personal autonomy, the elimination of liberties, and coercion generally to represent prohibitive costs per se.
In the case of Number 4, coercion is inevitably always going to be more effective than persuasion. If the Gestapo practices a firm policy of taking anyone caught smoking out, standing him up against a wall, and shooting him, it will definitely do a more effective job of discouraging smoking than any number of public service advertisements about health hazards.
Frankly, philosophically speaking, I think Profesor Conly’s four criteria deserve to fall directly into the departmental waste container labeled: “meaningless, trivial, or simply false.”
I have an equally negative view of her use of “social science” studies, aka bullsh*t, to refute John Stuart Mill. Anybody can prove anything with social science studies.
Professor Conly’s philosophy features also the notable defect that behavioral economics and psychology apply to you and me, the intended victims of her paternalist regime, but not to her and the other Platonic Guardians drafting the regulations.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? If man in general is too incompetent and irrational to manage his own life, he is certainly also too incompentent and irrational, too biased and selfish in perspective, too vainglorious and self-important to dictate to others how to live.
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.
NBC News’ David Gregory apparently defied the (absurd) District of Columbia law forbidding anyone “to possess [&c.] any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm” by openly holding in his hand and displaying an empty 30-round magazine during a Meet the Press program in which he confronted NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre.
Anne Althouse elucidates the semiotics that drove NBC News to turn to open, on-the-air, defiant commission of a crime.
If possession of that high-capacity magazine was a crime, and the NBC folk knew it and had even contacted the police and thus even knew they’d created rock-hard evidence that they knew it, why did they go ahead and have Gregory flaunt that illegal possession on television? They had to have thought it was a devastatingly powerful prop. My first guess was that they imagined that viewers — some viewers, at least — would find the object itself scary. ...
I’m not sure exactly why that jogged my thinking, but suddenly I understand the drama Gregory (and his people) were trying to enact. It’s a deep psychic memory of childhood. Gregory sought dominance over his interlocutor, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, and the idea — in the act of picking up that magazine and beginning an interrogation about it — was that Gregory would become (subliminally) a parent figure who would push LaPierre into the subordinate role of the little boy, the cowering child confronted with undeniable evidence of his wrongdoing. What’s THIS I found in your room?
The plan was for LaPierre to babble lamely, scrambling to explain it away, like the kid trying to concoct some cockamamie reason why that (whatever) got into his room. He’d look foolish and guilty, as Dad continues to hold up the item which the kid knows will be the defeat of every idea that flashes through his stupid, stupid brain.
The scenario didn’t play out as scripted. LaPierre is a stolid veteran of many a confrontational interview. He’s not going to let the interviewer get the upper hand that easily.
Naturally, all this has inevitably provoked considerable discussion about whether Mr. Gregory should really be prosecuted and potentially convicted, sentenced, and treated as a criminal for an action obviously involving no real threat of any kind to anyone, for a purely technical violation of an obviously extravagantly far-reaching provision of a law aimed in intent at curbing authentic violent crime.
A lot of people have made good arguments and intelligent points. Even NRA President David Keene argued that Gregory’s “crime” should simply be overlooked.
Mark Steyn, however, decided to swim against the tide of general opinion, and argues that David Gregory ought to be held to the same irrational regulatory standards as everybody else.
This is, declared NYU professor Jay Rosen, “the dumbest media story of 2012.” Why? Because, as CNN’s Howard Kurtz breezily put it, everybody knows David Gregory wasn’t “planning to commit any crimes.”
So what? Neither are the overwhelming majority of his fellow high-capacity-magazine-owning Americans. Yet they’re expected to know, as they drive around visiting friends and family over Christmas, the various and contradictory gun laws in different jurisdictions. Ignorantia juris non excusat is one of the oldest concepts in civilized society: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Back when there was a modest and proportionate number of laws, that was just about doable. But in today’s America there are laws against everything, and any one of us at any time is unknowingly in breach of dozens of them. And in this case NBC were informed by the D.C. police that it would be illegal to show the thing on TV, and they went ahead and did it anyway: You’ll never take me alive, copper! You’ll have to pry my high-capacity magazine from my cold dead fingers! When the D.C. SWAT team, the FBI, and the ATF take out NBC News and the whole building goes up in one almighty fireball, David Gregory will be the crazed loon up on the roof like Jimmy Cagney in White Heat: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” At last, some actual must-see TV on that lousy network.
But, even if we’re denied that pleasure, the “dumbest media story of 2012” is actually rather instructive. David Gregory intended to demonstrate what he regards as the absurdity of America’s lax gun laws. Instead, he’s demonstrating the ever greater absurdity of America’s non-lax laws. His investigation, prosecution, and a sentence of 20–30 years with eligibility for parole after ten (assuming Mothers Against High-Capacity Magazines don’t object) would teach a far more useful lesson than whatever he thought he was doing by waving that clip under LaPierre’s nose.
To Howard Kurtz & Co., it’s “obvious” that Gregory didn’t intend to commit a crime. But, in a land choked with laws, “obviousness” is one of the first casualties — and “obviously” innocent citizens have their “obviously” well-intentioned actions criminalized every minute of the day. Not far away from David Gregory, across the Virginia border, eleven-year-old Skylar Capo made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days. For her pains, a federal Fish & Wildlife gauleiter accompanied by state troopers descended on her house, charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species, issued her a $535 fine, and made her cry. Why is it so “obvious” that David Gregory deserves to be treated more leniently than a sixth grader? Because he’s got a TV show and she hasn’t?