“You see things and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were,
and I say, ‘Why not?’”
~ The Serpent, George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah
I find that quote – often misattributed to take-your-pick-of one of the Kennedys – to be particularly delicious, and on several levels. Not only is it something of a rallying cry for intellectuals and their running dogs, the intelligentsia,1 but, so far as I can tell, not a one of them has a clue about it. In the first place, it’s the Serpent speaking, which is to say, Satan, tempting Eve to take that bite. Secondly, that gets us not only kicked out of Paradise, but, in the hands of the modern intellectual, the quote and the attitude behind it gets us all the way to Hell. See, for example, Stalinist Russia, China’s Great Leap Forward and its Cultural Revolution, Cambodia’s Killing Fields, etc. Thirdly, it wouldn’t be so bad if they’d actually answer the question they ask. It is, after all, possible that there’s a very good reason why not. But, no, that would interfere with the fantasy, wouldn’t it? And that fantasy – well, this week’s fantasy – is all important, isn’t it?
Okay, now stop reading this column for the few minutes it takes to read this: http://www.tomkratman.com/Ranthhour.html. Yes, that is why Kratman sneers at intellectuals and intellectualism, generally. Yes, I’ll still be here when you return.
Back? Ah, good. Beer’s in the fridge; cigars are in the humidor. Help yourself.
Two of the dozen or so best non-fiction books I’ve ever read are Civilization and Its Enemies, by Lee Harris, and The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. I encourage anyone who gives a damn about our civilization and our country to read them. That said, though they are brilliant, wonderful, and all manner of superlatives, they have a couple of flaws.
Professor Haidt’s book has, to my mind, two major values. One is in restating that reason and people have little to do with each other, that, reason is, in Hume’s phrase, “the slave of the passions.” The other is that it lays out a six-principle moral matrix, a way we approach the world in terms of right and wrong. He insists that liberals and conservatives – and, be it noted, in the course of his researches he seems to have changed from a strong version of the former into a respectably moderate version of the latter – are merely different. The Righteous Mind, in any case, attempts to describe us, Left and Right, merely as different.
The problem with it is that Haidt’s own research does not show the Left as merely being different, but rather as defective, deficient, distorted, delirious, dumb, and depraved. The Left knows it, too; they know when they’re being insulted. Just go look over those one star reviews on Amazon. Why did he do that; why did he downplay it? I can’t read minds, but I suspect it arises from either the “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” approach, or the “Jesus, I’m not going to have any friends left after this, since they’re all on the Left” factor, or both… hmmm… probably both.
It was Haidt’s book that led me from the conviction that the core difference between Right and Left resides in the eternal question, “Nature, Nurture, or Neither,” to a considerably less certain sense that that is merely the penultimate articulable difference, and that there is something else underneath that. On the left, it seems to be a kind of childish faith in a sort of magic. On the right, I am too close to see what it might be.
The brilliant Lee Harris’ Civilization and Its Enemies is shorter, less dense, more readable (not that Haidt is especially hard reading) – indeed, a joy to read, even as it depresses the crap out of the reader. Like Haidt, Harris seems to have spent his younger life somewhat liberal. He is gay. He remains gay, but has the nearly unique distinction of being a gay guy who says, in effect, “forget gay marriage; save heterosexual marriage or we’re all screwed… and not in a pleasant way.” His book brings to the discussion some very important insights. Its failing is in its own penultimate concluding advice, namely:
“…intellectuals in America, Europe, and elsewhere must abandon the pursuit of abstract utopias and fantasy ideologies and return to the real world. They must undertake a critique of their own inherent distorted point of view, in order to comprehend the visceral and emotional dynamic at the foundation of all human cultures and their history.”
It’s really such fantastic advice. Rather, it would be if it wasn’t tantamount to telling left-wing intellectuals and ideologues to give up their livelihoods, to give up their sense of identity and worth, to abandon their entire delusional set of values, in short to part ways with everything they care about… oh, and to stop asking, “Why not?” and then not answering the question. He may as well have told them to hang themselves; it would be no more painful for them. Indeed, it would be much less painful; since eventually brain and body die, and pain ends. In any case, it is simply not going to happen, hence is completely useless advice for them. Thus it is useless to us to waste effort or abuse innocent electrons in giving them that advice.
I’d like to think – and, in fact, I do think – that the advice I have to proffer is potentially more useful than Mr. Harris’; useful, at least, in avoiding the breakup of the United States2 and the accompanying descent into utter barbarism. That advice? Who is it for? It’s not for the extraordinarily stupid, self-centered, utterly selfish, and close enough to sociopathic members of the intellectual class, nor for the even more mentally defective intelligentsia. It’s not for the extremists, hanging out on the fringes. Rather, it’s for the moderate masses of the more or less reasonable middle, in whose hands, if they will but take their fate into their own hands, rests our chance for a future. More importantly, in their hands rests the chance for my grandchildren to have a future. Oh, yes, and you might make a future for your grandchildren, too.
- Stop taking civilization and domestic peace for granted. Understand that they’re hard to achieve and by no means easy to keep. Remember that, without them, life is pure hell. That means, yes, you over here with me on the right of the middle, look left as far as you can distinguish among people. That last group you can see clearly? Yes, like you and me they have an interest in maintaining a civilized, united country, even if, like you – okay, and me, too – they have a hard time seeing it. That means, also, that yes, you over there on the left – you who can distinguish, say, me and people like me from Nazis – you, too, will lose a lot more than you’re prepared to if we fall apart. Reach out.
- Turn your backs on the extreme, even if you can distinguish among them easily and even if they’re telling you things you want to hear, things that are so emotionally satisfying to hear that they rank up there with sex. They do not – be they Left or Right – care a shit for you. In their eyes you’re a subhuman stage prop, nothing more, whose highest purpose is giving depth to the fantasies they weave in their minds.
- Remember that some things, on both sides, are non-negotiable. That means, liberals, that, yes, we’re really serious about “cold, dead fingers,” and no, there are no reasonable compromises on guns, if for no other reason than any compromise merely moves the bar to yet another demand for a still more restrictive “compromise.” That means, too, Righties, that no, abortion is not going away. Console yourself that, at least, abortion probably kept John – “I was for being against the troops before I was against being for them” – Kerry out of the White House.3 No, Righty, Massachusetts is not going to start executing murderers. No, Lefty, Texas is not going to stop.
- Compromise where you can; the price of not doing so is exorbitant.
- Always demand an answer to the question, “Why not?”
1 Though many and perhaps most on the left would scoff at the notion of “right-wing” intellectuals, I assure the reader that the Left has no monopoly on idiocy. Yes, I meant that exactly as written.
2 Again, we’re not talking secession and Gettysburg, here, but simple break down in all order and 1980s Beirut, writ very large, and by people more culturally competent in mass murder.
3 How fortunate for me that that orange-faced, windsurfing buffoon and full-time gigolo isn’t covered by Article 88, UCMJ, no?
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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