Professor Lakoff uses the term ‘progressive’ freely. Now there is a framing metaphor if ever there was one. What person of goodwill could possibly be against progress, that is to say betterment of the human condition? So if you are a person in favour of progress – in short, a progressive – only the malevolent could disagree with you.
However, there is a rather large question begged here, namely ‘What is progress?’ There is rarely gain without loss, and loss can easily exceed gain. Human action has unintended and unforeseen consequences, sometimes beneficial, often not. Progress in society is not the same as progress in internet speeds… It is possible for reasonable people to disagree… Yet Professor Lakoff seems to use the term ‘progressive’ as if those he calls progressives brought about progress ex officio, as it were, merely by virtue of their self-designation. This is a form of magical thinking.
I’m reminded of the modesty of Mr George Monbiot, a man who also deploys the word ‘progressive’ as if it were a talisman, and who dismisses his political opponents as dullards struggling with “low intelligence” and racial phobias.
These posters and drawing hardly seem to be the stuff of Voltairian pamphlets. They do not renew the liberal flames in me. What should inspire one, though, is the response to them. It is alarming that our national media feels that it cannot publish a drawing of a cartoon man for fear of violent reprisals. If people are scared to show innocuous cartoons, how might they react to a novel that may provoke controversy, or to academic research that might inspire outrage? …If, indeed, Rory Bremner is scared to joke, or Grayson Perry to make art, how many commentators, novelists and scholars have allowed their thoughts to be repressed?
In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.” To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.
As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.
Chris Snowdon on booze, sponsorship and publicly subsidised temperance zealots:
With tiresome predictability, Alcohol Concern says this must all be done for the sake of “children.” There is, it seems, no interference into adult pastimes that cannot be justified in the name of those who are prohibited from engaging in them. For the moral busybody, all the world is a crèche.
Peter Wood ponders the bean-counting world of campus gender equity:
To be “representative of the student body,” approximately 55% of the 52 Title IX Coordinator positions should have been held by women. But in our sample, 83% are held by women. Likewise, women appear overrepresented in the staff positions of the relevant campus offices, but the level of overrepresentation was less than for the top positions (73.1 percent of the positions are held by women). Considering that the overwhelming preponderance of sexual harassment allegations are directed by women at men, the disproportion of women to men in the positions charged with interpreting and enforcing the sexual harassment rules is a legitimate concern. Are male students who are accused of sexual harassment likely to receive fair-minded treatment in these offices?
When white male President Mills pledges to press for race-based affirmative action, the right reply is this: “Well, then, sir, you must resign your post immediately and call for Bowdoin to hire a racial or ethnic minority in your place.” Keep it simple and direct. Every white male board member of the ACE should receive a message to step down. Let’s ask white male campus leaders to stand up for their own principles and do the thing they want everybody else to do. When white women acquire a disproportionate number of jobs in campus leadership, yet still call for more diversity, they, too, should be asked to withdraw. This is the logic of affirmative action, and if diversity proponents who are white follow it to its conclusion, they should relinquish their positions as soon as possible.
The University of Leipzig has voted to adopt the feminine version of the word for ‘professor’ as its default. In German, professorin refers to a female professor while professor is the male equivalent. Under the new measures, written documents will use the term Professorinnen when referring to professors in general. A footnote is to explain that male professors are also included in the description. Physics professor Dr Josef Käs suggested the change as a joke because he was becoming weary of extended discussions about gendered language. To his surprise, the university board voted in favour of the idea.
It is not true that the society in which he lived offered him no opportunity for personal betterment. Adebolajo was for a time a student at Greenwich University, graduation from which, whatever the real value of the education it offered him, would have improved his chances in the job market, especially in the public sector. But it was at the university that he encountered radical Islam, that ideology that simultaneously succours people with an existential grudge against the world and flatters their inflated and inflamed self-importance. It also successfully squares the adolescent circle: the need both to conform to a peer group and to rebel against society.
As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments. [ *Added, via Rafi in the comments. ]
The killer of French schoolchildren and soldiers turns out to be a man called Mohammed Merah. The story can now proceed according to time-honoured tradition. Stage One: The strange compulsion to assure us that the killer is a “right wing conservative extremist,” in the words of NRO commenter ExpatAsia. […] The insistence that the killer was emblematic of an epidemic of right-wing hate sweeping the planet is, regrettably, no longer operative. Instead, the killer isn’t representative of anything at all.
So on to Stage Two: Okay, he may be called Mohammed but he’s a “lone wolf.” Sure, he says he was trained by al-Qaeda, but what does he know? Don’t worry, folks, he’s just a lone wolf like Major Hasan and Faisal Shahzad and all the other card-carrying members of the Amalgamated Union of Lone Wolves. All jihad is local. On to Stage Three: Okay, even if there are enough lone wolves around to form their own Radio City Rockette line, it’s still nothing to do with Islam. […]
And then, of course, Stage Four: The backlash that never happens. Because apparently the really bad thing about actual dead Jews is that it might lead to dead non-Jews: “French Muslims Fear Backlash After Shooting.” Likewise, after Major Hasan’s mountain of dead infidels, “Shooting Raises Fears For Muslims In US Army.” Likewise, after the London Tube slaughter, “British Muslims Fear Repercussions After Tomorrow’s Train Bombing.” Oh, no, wait, that’s a parody, though it’s hard to tell.
James Q. Wilson, America’s preeminent social scientist, has noted that until relatively recently, “politics was about only a few things; today, it is about nearly everything.” Until the 1930s, or perhaps the 1960s, there was a “legitimacy barrier” to federal government activism: When new policies were proposed, the first debate was about whether the federal government could properly act at all on the subject. Today, there is no barrier to the promiscuous multiplication of programmes, because no programme is really new. Rather, it is an extension, modification or enlargement of something government is already doing.
The vicious cycle that should worry [economic adviser, Larry] Summers is the reverse of the one he imagines. It is not government being “cut back” because of disappointments that reinforce themselves. Rather, it is government squandering its limited resources, including the resource of competence, in reckless expansions of its scope. “There has been,” Wilson writes, “a transformation of public expectations about the scope of federal action, one that has put virtually everything on Washington’s agenda and left nothing off.” Try, Wilson suggests, to think “of a human want or difficulty that is not now defined as a ‘public policy problem.’”
And related to the above, Tim Worstall on Zoe Williams and her suggested jobs of choice:
When the desirable jobs are spending other peoples’ money, reporting on spending other peoples’ money and lobbying to spend other peoples’ money, then you know that the society is fucked.
I had expected people struggling to get by and occupying someone else’s property as a last resort, but the iPods and laptops suggested otherwise… Given they professed to have reclaimed the place for the people, I tried to explore. However, I was stopped when trying to go upstairs: it was apparently “private.” I complained that this surely contradicted the whole justification for occupation but was told, “If you’re going to be like that, you can fuck off then.”
It seems the slogan “property is theft” has quietly been modified to something a little more honest, if scarcely less stupid: “Your property is theft. Mine is out of bounds.”
One might as well blame the 9/11 hijackers, or the rioters against the Danish cartoons, without whose actions it would never have occurred to Mr Jones that the Qur’an was a book worth burning. By all means criticise the Qur’an-burning if you disapprove of it on grounds such as respect for religion or for the feelings of believers. But to condemn it on the grounds that it incites violence betrays severe moral confusion.
In the past five years, the Arts Council, which has been through six restructurings since 1993, has spent more than £300,000 on public opinion research. In 2009, it spent £100,000 on media monitoring and £107,000 on legal fees (down from £455,000 in 2008). Some £50,000 was blown on office Christmas parties in two years. Christmas cards accounted for another £22,000 in 2009. The spending has been like something out of The Great Gatsby. Arts Council buildings cost £2.7 million a year to rent, while latest figures show an annual administration spend of £48 million. Oh, and 20 staff had ‘diversity’ in their job titles last year, while almost 40 had ‘communication’ on their business cards. All of this money has been spent before a single play, a single concert or a single exhibition was staged.
Arts Council chair and noted Guardianista Liz Forgan has taken great exception to Mr Letts’ piece, in particular his reference to the organisation’s “multicultural nomenklatura of senior lieutenants.” As Guido Fawkes notes, Ms Forgan is now demanding “‘sincere and personal apologies’ to the entire Arts Council board and senior management team for suggesting that they might have been token appointments who won their jobs on anything but open competition.” Which may not be the soundest footing for public umbrage, given that the Arts Council and its protégés openly celebrate taxpayer-funded racial favouritism.
Our favourite postcolonial studies lecturer, Priyamvada Gopal, is troubled by the cover of Time magazine’s August issue. The cover features an 18-year-old Afghan woman named Bibi Aisha, whose nose and ears were cut off by order of the Taliban as punishment for fleeing her abusive in-laws. The image shows not an accident of war, but Taliban justice. With the support of the Grossman Burn Foundation and Women for Afghan Women, Aisha, who lives under armed protection in a women’s shelter in Kabul, is soon to head to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery. However, Ms Gopal isn’t happy about Time magazine “condensing Afghan reality into simplistic morality tales”:
Misogynist violence is unacceptable, but...
Ah. The but.
...but we must also be concerned by the continued insistence that the complexities of war, occupation and reality itself can be reduced to bedtime stories.
Readers can peruse the Timearticles accompanying the image and decide for themselves whether the complexities of war and “occupation” are being “reduced to bedtime stories.” Ms Gopal’s own article - titled, somewhat bizarrely, Burkas and Bikinis - has a subheading that reads:
Time magazine’s cover is the latest cynical attempt to oversimplify the reality of Afghan lives.
Simplifying reality is a bad thing, see? “Afghans,” we’re told, “have been silenced and disempowered” by simplistic Western stereotypes. But the people who actually do, physically, silence and disempower Afghans – with threats and knives and acid, for instance - don’t seem to register as worthy of discussion.
The mutilated Afghan woman ultimately fills a symbolic void where there should be ideas for real change. The truth is that the US and allied regimes do not have anything substantial to offer Afghanistan beyond feeding the gargantuan war machine they have unleashed.
So no simplification there. Apparently, the restoration of education for millions of Afghan girls doesn’t count as “real change,” and nor do those dastardly and imperialistschool building projects, which the Taliban so righteously endeavour to destroy. When not burning food aid intended for pregnant women or spraying acid in the faces of schoolgirls. And I suspect the Afghan woman who chose to be photographed for Time’s cover in the hope of encouraging even more dastardly imperialism might regard her disfigurement, and that of other women in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as more than mere symbolism. Though the perpetrators of such acts are very much aware of symbolic value, with their handiwork often serving as a warning to other women who presume to misbehave.
Undaunted, our esteemed educator continues,
In the affluent west itself, modernity is now about dismantling welfare systems, increasing inequality (disproportionately disenfranchising women in the process), and subsidising corporate profits.
Yes, of course. That’s all modernity is about. We are insufficiently socialist, so who are we to judge barbarism? I’m sure these things must be foremost in Bibi Aisha’s mind as she prepares for her flight to America and reconstructive surgery. Truly, she is heading for the belly of the beast.
Is it “reasonable” to assume that the intruder is merely a thief who doesn’t mind terrorising those whose homes he violates and whose property he steals, but isn’t prepared to do actual violence to his victims, even when cornered? And on what is that assumption based? Given the situation, and the fact your heart is pounding, do you really have the time and means to fathom the intruder’s motives and take them into account before acting – and acting without “excess”?
The basic flaw of Islam is its founder. Dishonesty won’t change that.
By whitewashing the concept of jihad and its fundamental importance in Islamic history, apologists, moderate believers and those to whom they appeal are tactically wrong-footed. Moderation so conceived is essentially a sleight-of-hand and, however well-intended, is at odds with history and Muhammad’s own exhortations to violence. It isn’t enough to pretend that jihad was originated and understood as something fluffy and benign. (In May 1994, when Yasser Arafat called for a “jihad to liberate Jerusalem,” it wasn’t entirely obvious how such a thing might be achieved by an inner spiritual struggle with no physical connotations.)
And then there’s the leftwing think-tank, the New Economics Foundation, whose Head of Social Policy, Anna Coote, tells us we would become “better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours” if only our incomes were dramatically reduced. “We,” she says, will be “satisfied” without the “dispensable accoutrements of middle-class life,” including “cars, holidays, electronic equipment and multiple items of clothing.” The preferences of the British electorate – whose taxes fund the NEF - don’t figure in this brave new world and the NEF’s deep thinkers simply know what’s best for us. What’s best for us is “introducing measures to reduce the gradient between high and low earners,” “growing our own food,” and “mending and repairing things.” According to Ms Coote, “freedom” will be found in sameness, make-do and unpaid manual labour.
A while ago, in a post on Professor Jere Surber and his prodigious self-regard, I noted a feature of academia’s less reputable corners:
In many arts subjects, especially those tethered only loosely to evidence, logic or practical verification, there’s often pressure to avoid the obvious and prosaic, even when the obvious and prosaic is true. The obligation to be unobvious, if only for the benefit of one’s academic peers, may help explain the more fanciful assertions from some practitioners of the liberal arts. Consider, for instance, Duke’s professor miriam cooke, who refuses to capitalise her name, thus drawing attention to her egalitarian radicalism and immense creativity. Professor cooke’s subtlety of mind is evident in her claim that the oppression and misogyny found in the Islamic world is actually the fault of globalisation and Western colonialism, despite the effects predating their alleged causes by several centuries. Professor cooke also tells us that “polygamy can be liberating and empowering” – a statement that may strike readers as somewhat dubious. It does, however, meet the key criteria of being both edgy and unobvious.
In a review of Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society, Theodore Dalrymple touches on a similar point:
Intellectuals, like everyone else, live and work in a marketplace. In order to get noticed they must say things which have not been said before, or at least say them in a different manner. No one is likely to obtain many plaudits for the rather obvious, indeed self-evident, thought that a street robber cannot commit street robberies while he is in prison. But an intellectual who first demonstrates that the cause of an increase in street robbery is the increase in the amount of property that law-abiding pedestrians have on them as they walk in the streets is likely to be hailed, at least until the next idea comes along. Thus, while there are no penalties for being foolish, there are severe penalties (at least in career terms) for being obvious.
As Dalrymple notes, the obligation to be unobvious can lead some to make claims that are original only insofar as more realistic people would not be inclined to take them seriously. Or as Sowell puts it elsewhere,
If you’ve mastered the writings of William Shakespeare and convey that to the next generation, who have obviously not mastered it, you’re performing a valuable service. But, that’s not going to advance your academic career. You’ve got to come out with some new theory of Shakespeare. You’ve got to go through and show how there is gender bias or the secret gay message somewhere coded in Shakespeare. You’ve just got to come up with something.
Thus, Dr Sandra Harding, a “feminist philosopher of science,” can claim that it’s both “illuminating and honest” to refer to Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual,” while insisting that rape and torture metaphors can usefully describe its contents. Likewise, Professor Judith Butler – a high priestess of the ponderous and opaque – can dismissclarity and common sense as inhibiting radicalism. (Sentiments shared by, among others, Ralph Hexter, Daniel Selden and Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, who disdains “clarity of presentation” and “unproblematic prose” as “the conceptual tools of conservatism.”)
Occasionally, Judith Butler’s politics are aired relatively free of question-begging jargon, thus revealing her radicalism to the lower, uninitiated castes. As, for instance, at a 2006 UC Berkeley “Teach-In Against America’s Wars,” during which the professor claimed that it’s “extremely important” to “understand” Hamas and Hizballah as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a globalLeft” and so, by implication, deserving of support. Readers may find it odd that students are being encouraged to express solidarity with totalitarian terrorist movements that set booby traps in schools and boast of using children as human shields, and whose statedgoals include the Islamic “conquest” of the free world, the “obliteration” of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people. However, such statements achieve a facsimile of sense if one understands that the object is to be both politically radical and morally unobvious.
Thomas Sowell discusses his book with Peter Robinson here. Parts 2, 3, 4, 5.
A discussion with Stephen Hicks, author of Explaining Postmodernism.
Writing in Innovations of Antiquity, Ralph Hexter and Daniel Selden dismissed “transparent prose” as “the approved mode of expression for the society and values of the newly empowered middle class.” In the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Mas’ud Zavarzadeh denounced “unproblematic prose and clarity of presentation” as “the conceptual tools of conservatism.” The rejection of transparency as “conservative” is particularly odd, since transparency makes a claim amenable to broad critical enquiry, and thus public correction. Without transparency, what do we have? A private language shared only by likeminded peers in which one is free to assert largely unopposed? [...] Presumably, if you prefer arguments that are comprehensible and open to scrutiny, this signals some reactionary tendency and deep moral failing. On the other hand, if you sneer at such bourgeois trifles, you’re radical, clever and very, very sexy.
The Dalai Lama gets it wrong. Cultural equivalence debunked at length.
Rosie O’Donnell was happy to assert that, “radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America.” But while red-faced evangelists may say, for instance, that gay people are wicked, damned to hellfire, etc, I don’t know of any internationally renowned Christian leaders who are calling for the imprisonment and killing of gay people. Unlike the supposedly “moderate” Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who insists that gay men and lesbians should be “killed in the worst manner possible.” Not condemned, ‘corrected,’ prayed for or pitied, or any of the usual nonsense spouted by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson et al; but murdered - as brutally as possible.
Professor Sharra Vostral exposes the humble tampon as an “artefact of control.”
Note the professor’s confidence as she rushes to the podium on Mount Grievance. She is righteous and wise, and apparently telepathic. Non-literal uses of the term “patchwork” must assume whatever sequence of ideas suits Professor Vostral’s worldview. Used metaphorically, the word “patchwork” must signal disdain for quilt making, quilt makers and, by implication, an entire gender too. There can be no doubt about it. “Patchwork” simply is a “gendered insult” - one “based in derogatory understandings” of a “woman-based art form.” It’s “embedded,” apparently.
Terry Eagleton has been one of the great minds of the European left seemingly since Cromwell.
This addition to our ongoing series comes from the author and Nation columnist Dave Zirin. It’s his opening line. The second line, however, notes Eagleton’s “absence of understanding” and subsequent sentences explain why the professor’s most recent article, discussed here, is a dusty old trope and “elitist hogwash” - a polemic that’s “more about Eagleton’s alienation than our own.”
I’m sure Professor Eagleton would have some achingly clever reply, given his ability to compare suicide bombing with “avant-garde theatre.” And bearing in mind our recent discussion, it’s perhaps worth noting the professor’s belief that, “being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all.” This was said while gushing over the “great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid,” a man who wrote a series of Hymns To Lenin, who renewed his party membership in 1956, and whose death, according to Eagleton, spared him from the “dark night of Thatcherism.” An elected Conservative government being so much worse than, say, Soviet tanks in Budapest and hundreds of thousands of fleeing dissidents.
Those who’ve followed Eagleton’s pronouncements will have spotted that the professor is often hostile to dissent, in particular to those whose thinking and experiences take them away from the boneyards of the left. According to the professor, the knighting of Salman Rushdie was “the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.” No evidence for this dastardly conspiracy was deemed necessary and Rushdie’s supposed “fondness for the Pentagon’s politics” is apparently all that needs to be said, signalling as it must the man’s innate wickedness.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Eagleton’s umbrage on the subject was shared by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini, who told the world that the decision to praise “the apostate” had “insulted Islamic sanctities” and was “a blatant example of anti-Islamism.” While the Guardian’s Priyamvada Gopal railed against Rushdie’s apostasy as only a lecturer in postcolonial studies can. Rushdie’s divergence from Ms Gopal’s own cartoon worldview - including his dislike of tyranny and his defence of such heresies as intellectual freedom - had apparently reduced the author to “a giggling hack corralled into attacking his ruler’s enemies.”
Eagleton also hissed at Christopher Hitchens, denouncing him as an “establishment groupie” who has “made his peace... with capitalism” and “learned how to stop worrying about imperialism and love Paul Wolfowitz.” Like his Guardian colleague Bidisha, our esteemed literary theorist imagines he has some proprietary claim on proper, radical thought. Such that radical thought must entail “questioning the foundations of the western way of life,” which in turn must entail having opinions almost exactly like his own. Norm Geras, a lefty in an altogether different league, took apart Eagleton’s assumptions with admirable patience. A venture for which Norm will no doubt be condemned and cast out in due course.
When a famous tantric guru boasted on television that he could kill another man using only his mystical powers, most viewers either gasped in awe or merely nodded unquestioningly. Sanal Edamaruku’s response was different. “Go on then - kill me,” he said.
Mr Edamaruku had been invited to the same talk show as head of the Indian Rationalists’ Association - the country’s self-appointed sceptic-in-chief. At first the holy man, Pandit Surender Sharma, was reluctant, but eventually he agreed to perform a series of rituals designed to kill Mr Edamaruku live on television. Millions tuned in as the channel cancelled scheduled programming to continue broadcasting the showdown.
Thankfully, there’s a clip of the most tense moment of this paranormal confrontation, complete with chilling music.
First, the master chanted mantras, then he sprinkled water on his intended victim. He brandished a knife, ruffled the sceptic’s hair and pressed his temples. But after several hours of similar antics, Mr Edamaruku was still very much alive.
All of which is flimsy excuse to post a link to this.