Friday, May 26, 2017

The “Whew!” Edition

     Glory Be To God! I thought I was retired. Even so, any time I decide to take a day off to “chill” – and yes, actual cold (i.e., multiple ice packs) was involved – the roof falls on me. It’s as if the forces of evil were watching from the wings for just one moment of inattention. It’s been suggested, mainly by my former colleagues in engineering, that this effect is just a corollary to Murphy’s Law. However, we must strive to remember that Murphy’s Law has been superseded by O’Toole’s Law:

Murphy was an optimist.

     1. Ch-ch-ch-changes.

     I must remember to read Intellectual Takeout more often:

     Here are six statistics that drive home just how much things have changed in America in a little more than a half-century:

     Please read it all. For those who need more of a teaser than that, here are the “bullet points:”


     The period the article considers largely overlaps my life. I’ve written about the cause of some of the changes — and the changes the article delineates are a giant part of the reason I keep almost entirely to myself.

     2. A How-To Guide.

     Brock Townsend is among the most valuable of the Web’s “aggregators:”

     It’s a devastatingly effective process, and one in which our “chattering classes” have enthusiastically enlisted themselves. The “New Segregationists” pieces posted here give my thoughts on the matter.

     And before we leave this subject, allow me to say once more, with renewed conviction:

I Am A Racist.

     I strove for decades to “see” the Negro race as different from the others only in skin color. It took more than fifty years of actual exposure to Negroes, both personally and via the news, to persuade me that the races differ in ways that render them essentially immiscible. It wasn’t easy to reject my former beliefs as founded on illusions and propaganda, especially since I was surrounded throughout by well-meaning, “compassionate” persons determined to keep me from viewing the evidence objectively and evaluating it dispassionately.

     But then, “compassion,” the fool’s gold at the foundation of so many of our social pathologies, was all those well-meaning persons had.

     3. Culture Wars.

     We often take too narrow a view of what constitutes our “culture.” It’s more than just the glop in the Petri dishes, Gentle Readers. It should be taken to include our language: specifically the ways in which we use and are encouraged to use important words.

     Any number of Web commentators have noted the proliferation of amphigory in “scholarly” publications. The publications themselves, ever so willing to accept meaningless nonsense as filler, are largely responsible for that, but in even greater part are the “social justice” ticks embedded in our universities:

     Last week, Ulrich Baer, a vice-provost and a professor of English at New York University, made an astonishing case against free speech in the New York Times. Baer framed the debate as one of speakers operating to “invalidate the humanity” of others — thus justifying shutting down the speech of speakers students might not be appreciative towards. But in doing so, he revealed far more about his mindset and that of many scholars who operate in the humanities. After all, who do you think teaches students that speech is dangerous, the ideas that cause the “snowflake” reactions we have become accustomed to viewing, or that anyone who is not a straight white male is experiencing oppression at unprecedented levels?

     Once again, please read it all.

     It should surprise no one that the Times, as conscience-free and left-wing an organ as exists today, published the cited piece. But the true horror is that the blood that fattens the vicious and contemptible Baer is provided by an American university of (formerly) high repute – and is in part funded by your tax dollars.

     If you aren’t yet convinced that sending your bright teenager to an American “institution of higher learning” will in the very best case waste your money and his time, the task is beyond me.

     4. Sensitivity In Communication.

     Many people, including people who’ve known me for decades, have asked why I’m so concerned with clarity in spoken and written expression. It’s because I want to be certain we understand each other, damn it all. It’s because I know, from a great deal of painful experience, what the lack of precision in verbal expression can do to us. And of course, it’s because I’ve invested so much time and effort in the improvement of my own speech and writing...often to reap only derision for “sounding like a stuck-up asshole.”

     So many of those who preach the gospel of “as long as we know what we mean” are hoist by their own petard specifically because they can’t communicate effectively. A lack of sensitivity to the negative possibilities in common social intercourse is a part of this. Some of the social distance that eventuated in the election of President Donald Trump arises from that cause:

     At a high school reunion, [law professor Joan C. Williams’s] husband returned home still using the habits he had picked up in the upper class, and it led to an uncomfortable moment. “What do you do?” he asked an old classmate. When you’re a lawyer or a financier, part of the global professional class, it’s a perfectly innocent question. Elites love to talk about their jobs, indeed define themselves by their professions. Not so the WWC. They see work devotion as an indicator of upper-class narcissism. They do the bulk of the boring, repetitive, unglamorous work, some of it physically demanding, and they don’t define themselves by their labors at all. That classmate of Williams’ husband replied spitefully, “I sell toilets.”

     On the surface, asking someone “What do you do?” seems perfectly innocent. It embeds a seemingly benevolent assumption: most specifically, that you do something rather than camp all day long before the television with the remote control in one hand and a Tribal Ingathering Size bag of Cheetos® in the other. But there are persons who dislike to speak of their trades, because those trades are treated with disdain by others with “better” occupations. Indeed, there are persons, including some in very highly paid positions, who resent the suggestion that their trades are the most important things about them.

     A long time ago I worked as a researcher. After that I worked as an engineer. Today I work for myself and my readers, as a writer. I don’t consider any of those occupations to define me. Neither does the man who works diligently on an assembly line, or with a jackhammer, or deep inside a coal mine, deem his occupation to define him, especially if he comes home to a wife, children, two dogs, four cats, and a home that needs as much maintenance as mine.

     But “What do you do?” sounds so harmless! But were the answer to be “Well, I play with my kids, I make birdhouses and landscapes for model train layouts, I practice with my weapons, I read a lot of fantasy novels, and I spend a damnable fraction of my weekends unclogging the toilet in our master bathroom,” it might be just as true and far more relevant than the citation of one’s work for wages. Yet to ask “What’s most important to you?” of a brand new acquaintance is considered insensitive and intrusive. There’s a moral in there, somewhere.

     On this subject, I’d like to recommend a book: Conversationally Speaking, by Alan Garner. It was recommended to me long ago by a friend with whom I’ve lost touch. I can think of few books that have been nearly as important to me. Give it a look.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

A note on Ulrich Baer:

"It is a poet's luxury to sit around and wonder what the vintners buy one half so precious as the stuff they sell. For us, it is harsh necessity to discover what the school people learn one half so preposterous as the stuff they teach. It's not all that easy, for the stuff they learn usually turns out to be twice as preposterous as the stuff they teach."---Richard Mitchell