Thursday, January 3, 2013

Exactly


Daniel Pipes is an expert on the Middle East, which means that when he tries to say something correct about that part of the world, he gets called all sorts of nasty names. That would be what we call an occupational hazard, like carpenters getting splinters, or hockey players losing teeth.

He occasionally writes on other topics, about which he's usually just as correct, and this week he wondered aloud just why the Republicans managed to lose an election running against an inept president and his groaning platform of destructive policies. He came to a conclusion that's hardly new, but which probably sums up the whole mission statement of this blog:
Myself, I subscribe to the "politics is downstream from culture" argument. While conservatives sometimes prevail in policy debates, they consistently lose in the classroom, on the best-seller list, on television, at the movies, and in the world of arts. These liberal bastions, which provide the feeders for Democratic party politics, did not develop spontaneously but result from decades of hard work traceable back to the ideas of Antonio Gramsci.
I'd never heard of Gramsci until - surprise, surprise! - college, and what I understood I didn't much like, but presumed that it was worth ignoring, as it had little relationship to life as it seemed to be lived. Another thing I was wrong about; while upbringing and temperament made me largely immune (in the long run) to Gramsci's project of cultural denaturing, other people - something like a majority, or so it would seem - weren't so protected. As Guy Somerset wrote this week, in a column about things to worry about in the new year:
Why does anyone care what Al Sharpton or Shaneequa at the supermarket thinks about their racial beliefs? In some cases such as employment, it’s obvious; but to say most people are obsequious in order not to get fired is a canard. Most are simply indoctrinated. They would rather be raped than be racist. It wasn’t always this way. In fact, until recently it wasn’t this way.
One of the sobering spectacles of my adult life is watching people act against their own self-interest. When you're young and confused, it's hard to divine just what your self-interest is, particularly. Time and common sense eventually make it self-evident, but the shocking moment comes when you look around and see people actively, proudly agitating for causes nakedly inimical to their livelihood and beliefs, like feminists supporting Islamists, Catholics voting for Obama (twice!) or rich people endorsing Marxists.

It takes a while to realize that these people have come to the conclusion that there is no other option, and you start wondering just what they were taught that made them believe that they have no alternative except to invite into their house the person who has said that they will betray their confidence, conspire against their liberty, and even make them a pauper.

Nobody reads Gramsci, but his ideas have had an influence utterly out of proportion to their popularity. Like so many ideologies we consider either sinister, ridiculous (or both,) we've ignored what were once outlying sensations on the academic left like Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, even as they slowly became the mainstream there and spread into the arts, where they're considered self-evident truths by people who have never heard of Theodore Adorno or an obscure Italian communist.

I doubt if William F. Buckley ever thought to take on Adorno or Gramsci with the same fervor that he used to debate Gore Vidal. I don't imagine Gramsci's name ever appears in five decades of Buckley's writing, though I may be wrong. It's only now that conservatives have realized just how deeply these arcane, usually ill-expressed ideas have penetrated the culture, and have begun fighting what is, I'm afraid, a wholly defensive, rear-guard action.

(HT: Blazing Catfur & 5 Ft. of Fury)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Column: Rich


I have a new column up on the Interim website - a review of the documentary The Queen of Versailles, which is one of those time capsule artifacts that we might want to use to commemorate the last four or five years of fiscal incontinence. Here's a quote:
The moral writ large over The Queen of Versailles is that the Siegels aren't terribly different from Westgate Resort’s customers – regular people who went in over their heads in pursuit of a conspicuous luxury that they could ill afford. David keeps complaining that the banks got businessmen like him addicted to “cheap money,” as if they were victims, addicts deprived of willpower and discretion. 
It’s also a story of shamelessness, and that might be the larger moral Greenfield’s film could give to its audience. Despite the less-than-flattering picture the picture paints of her, Jackie has been an enthusiastic supporter of the picture, showing up at premieres even as her husband sues the filmmaker for defamation. The Siegels, to be sure, are guilty of a lot of social misdemeanors, but pretension and self-consciousness certainly aren't among them.
 As I've confessed before, there hasn't been a lot that's tempted me into movie theatres lately, but the documentary genre remains stronger than ever. It's also the one least likely to be a major player in the economics of movie exhibition these days, which is another reason never to leave the house.


Buy it at amazon.com

Monday, December 17, 2012

Violence


Everybody has an opinion; that's why they might be the least valuable thing in the world. (Their lack of value - relative or concrete - might be the strongest argument against "hate speech" laws.) It's not surprising then that, in the wake of a horrible crime that took the lives of innocent children, everybody has something to say. Unfortunately, the first people we go to for their valueless opinion are celebrities.

Jamie Foxx has a role in Quentin Tarantino's imminent Django Unchained, which is supposed to be one of the director's most violent films. Foxx recently told the Associated Press that he thinks there's a definite connection between cinematic bloodshed and the real thing:
"We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn't have a sort of influence," Foxx said in an interview on Saturday. "It does."
While I appreciate Foxx's concern about the violent murder of children by a lunatic, I wonder if he might like to back up his very public show of moral concern by making a call to his agent and insisting that he not be shown any more scripts with scenes of violence. Because if he sees any "sort of influence" that connects witnessing violence in entertainment with acting violently in real life, he can't in good conscience take roles that perpetuate it any longer. Because the children.

If he wishes to make his point more firmly, he can begin negotiations with the involved principals to block the further re-release or exhibition of Collateral, Miami Vice, Jarhead, Stealth, The Kingdom, Law Abiding Citizen and Ali, and insist that White House Down and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 be either shelved or taken out of production.

Because if he isn't this serious about the damage that he obviously believes onscreen violence is wreaking on society, he's just a concern troll who doesn't need a comments section.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ban

The worst thing about a senseless, bloody tragedy crime that probably couldn't have been avoided (unless we siphoned away a whole lot more liberty from our society) is that we're so eager to look outraged that we proudly ignore what might be a saner response in the pursuit of conspicuous virtue.

Which is why a lot of people will probably pretend to be offended by my friend Kathy saying the one original thing I've heard so far:
My not really joking solution to school shootings is to ban schools.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grammy

The people who give out the Grammys have just announced, barely a day after the man died, that they're going to give Ravi Shankar a lifetime achievement award.

You know what I think about posthumous lifetime achievement awards?

These guys.

"You remember the Best Hard Rock Grammy we gave Linkin Park? The Song of the Year award for the theme from Alladin? "Runaway Train" the Best Rock Song the same year In Utero was released? Zooropa for Best Alternative Album? Debby Boone as New Artist of the Year? Jethro Tull beating AC/DC and Metallica for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance? "Bette Davis Eyes" for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year? The Grammy we gave to "Patches?" The one we gave to "I Am Woman?" The Starland Vocal Band?"

"Honestly, I don't know what we were thinking. I guess you just had to be there. Didn't this Shankar guy play with the Beatles? Was he the one with the pan flute? I love that guy."

Speech

This blog is new, so I'm not sure I can be so presumptuous as to address my "American readers," as I'm not exactly sure if I have any regular readers yet. Similarly, the subject of this post is responsible for much of the traffic to this site, so it's pretty certain that what follows will be familiar to the vast majority of my "readers," American or not.

Sentimental? Yes. Corny? No. Don't you dare call this corny.

Brazening past all that, my American readers might not be aware that the concept of free speech as they know it isn't as common or widespread as they'd presume, growing up in a country that has (at least up until now - more than a bit of diligence is required in these matters) enshrined the principle of freedom of expression explicitly in the founding documents of their country. It's not so simple here in Canada, where we inherited the more circumspect concept of free speech from the British and laid on it further conditions in a poorly-written document pushed by a leader more concerned with his reputation in posterity than with any enlightened, mature concept of liberty or civil polity.

The result is that speaking your mind - or even hosting a forum to let other people speak theirs - is a potentially actionable pursuit here in Canada, and increasingly liable to legal harassment, financial disaster and court-mandated prohibition of your freedom of speech, thought and association. Americans have, so far, been able to defend themselves from this assault on their liberties simply by saying that it's unconstitutional (though there are forces constantly working on attacking the First Amendment - as someone who envies your country's up front defense of liberty, can I warn you to be vigilant?) The rest of the world, sadly, is even further behind the U.S., perhaps even Canada.

So what's happening is that my friend Arnie, who runs a very good blog called Blazing Cat Fur, is being sued by an onerous individual who's learned to use Canada's pitiful statutes on speech to try and silence his fellow citizens. Arnie is, truly, one of the good guys, and deserves all the support he can get in a legal battle that, regardless of the outcome, is meant to punish him economically and warn other people not to even think about saying what they think in any sort of public forum. This is a skirmish in a battle that, if lost, will make Canada a country very much less free than any of its citizens could imagine.

So I'm asking you to go here, read the details, and consider donating something to help Arnie out and maybe even contribute to a legal precedent that will make the steady diminishment of liberty and free speech slow and - perhaps one day - even retreat in this country. We have a lot of battles to fight right now, but losing this one could make winning any of the others almost impossible.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012