Archive for the ‘Intellect’ Category

What conservatism is for me

October 31, 2006

A self-described leftist writing in to Andrew Sullivan summed it up well:

[Y]ou see classic conservatism as the defense of liberty from brutality through doubt, caution, common sense and rigorous self-examination[.]


A certain kind of question

October 11, 2006

Freud asked, “What do women really want?” It is the kind of question people ask when they do not want to know.

— Garry Wills, Confessions of a Conservative, pg. 150.

Becoming what you oppose

October 9, 2006

I used to tease Frank about the way he opposed the state while becoming obsessed with it. He thought of nothing else, day or night. It had even greater power over him than he thought it was trying to get. Once one defines oneself primarily by opposition to one other thing, the essential surrender is made. One resembles those Christians who defined themselves in terms of opposition to the devil. The devil himself became their operative god, the thing that filled their thoughts and limited their actions. The obsessed person longs for some Ahab showdown with his own white whale. He grows to resemble the cruel thing he opposes, becomes its antitype or photographic negative[…]

— Garry Wills, Confessions of a Conservative, pg. 59.

Inside and outside

October 3, 2006

We can learn a great deal about something without learning of something; we can perceive the outline with remarkable clarity without perceiving the essence; we can see how a thing is seen without feeling how that thing is felt.

Maybe Fox News knows something about liberals. Maybe atheists know something about Christians. Maybe Americans know something about Iran. Maybe Ohio State fans know something about Ann Arbor. Maybe I know something about a thousand things.

But how important are the things known when compared to the things unknown? And in the absence of the things unknown, what worth exists in conclusions drawn from the things known?

Image and reality

July 16, 2006

Martha Nussbaum’s review of Harvey Mansfield’s book Manliness is a demonstration of what can make a book review worthwhile. She explores not just the intellectual failings of a book purported to be an intellectual work, but goes on to examine how those failings could plausibly have been a deliberate attempt to increase Mansfield’s appeal and marketability to a certain audience.

Nussbaum shows how the image of “Harvey Mansfield” differs from the reality of Harvey Mansfield. That sort of exposé is necessary but too rare.

Image is nearly empty when detached from reality. An intellectual image so detached can do little more than provide a brief thrill of knowingness that seems like knowledge before you stop to think about it.

Humility is a virtue because it restrains us to the hard work of reality when the easy charm of image tempts us. And when people are not humble, as with Professor Mansfield, sometimes it is in the public interest to humble them.

Undermining your case

May 23, 2006

In a recent post, Ross Douthat at The American Scene asks his readers to accept (without evidence) his characterization of the new book by Ramesh Ponnuru as smart and worthy of serious debate.

Douthat begins his post with a series of questionable presumptions about people who disagree with him. He distorts Jon Stewart’s interview of Ponnuru. He expresses his “genuine curiosity” about the views of people he insults and belittles throughout his post.

All of which makes me wonder why I should accept Douthat’s word about what is smart and serious.

The book itself? It was written by a writer for the National Review (granted, he is their best writer) and is published by Regnery Publishing. The book’s jacket copy begins with:

Is the Democratic Party the “Party of Death”?

If you look at their agenda they are.

In any given year, more than 100,000 titles are published in the English language. If I were to read two books a week, and limited my reading to books published within the year, I would be able to read only 1 in 1,000 of those titles.

Why in the world would I waste my time with a book that seems so unpromising?

Sorry, Ross. I think I’ll pass.


April 25, 2006

To follow up on my last post

It is said that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather indifference. Two kinds of passion differ less with each other than they both do with a lack of passion.

In the same way, the opposite of a left-wing polemic is not a right-wing polemic, but rather a good book. Two kinds of ignorance differ less with each other than they both do with wisdom.

A green and pleasant land, indeed

March 30, 2006

From an article in the once-august Times of London:

Professor Lynn, who caused controversy last year by claiming that men were more intelligent than women by about five IQ points on average, said that populations in the colder, more challenging environments of Northern Europe had developed larger brains than those in warmer climates further south. The average brain size in Northern and Central Europe is 1,320cc and in southeast Europe it is 1,312cc. “The early human beings in northerly areas had to survive during cold winters when there were no plant foods and they were forced to hunt big game,” he said. “The main environmental influence on IQ is diet, and people in southeast Europe would have had less of the proteins, minerals and vitamins provided by meat which are essential for brain development.”

He added that differences in intelligence across Britain could be attributed to bright people moving to London over hundreds of years. Adults in England and Wales have an IQ of 100.5, higher than Ireland and Scotland, both with 97. People living in London and the South East average 102. “Once in the capital they have settled and reared children, and these children have inherited their high intelligence and transmitted it to further generations.”

Let me see if I understand this…

In Europe, living in the relatively mild climate of the southeast retards IQ.

But in Britain, living in the relatively mild climate of the southeast enhances IQ.

The emaciation of conservatism

March 25, 2006

RedState is a prominent Republican group blog. On consecutive days this week, it featured:

  1. A post interpreting the graying of the conservative movement as an opportunity for the young’uns of RedState to advance in that movement.
  2. A post conditionally supporting Ben Domenech on the occasion of his resignation under pressure from the Washington Post.

Ben Domenech is a hollow man, notable for glorifying the military without serving and marriage without wedding. His writings (the parts that were not plagiarized) are exemplars of a style of punditry that treats the different as inferior, the exotic as risible, and the uncomfortable as perverse; a style suited for the immature, the inbred, and the inexperienced.

I started to leave the conservative movement in the mid-’90s because so much of what passed for thought and discussion within it was done in this style. Almost everyone cited the same canon and came to the same narrow range of conclusions. Few were willing to engage (as opposed to mock) non-conservatives and their ideas.

And that’s the fatal flaw of the conservatives of my generation: They talk only amongst themselves. The graying conservatives who built the movement had to appeal to all kinds of people in order to build it. Conservatives in their 20s and 30s — the Jonah Goldbergs and Ben Domenechs — simply can’t do that, and I would guess that they don’t see the need to do that because they take for granted the power and permanence of the conservative movement.

RedStaters are not going to inherit the conservative movement. RedStaters are going to watch helplessly as the movement recedes back to the fringe from whence it came.

Faith-based and reality-based

March 11, 2006

[I]f morality represents an ideal world, then economics represents the actual world.

— Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics, pg. 206.