Service Notice

Late this morning our previous post attracted a sudden flurry of distasteful comments. I don’t usually moderate comments — life is too short — so I’ve just removed all comments from that post and shut it down.

I’ve generally been very fortunate in this regard. I flirt with serious heresy here sometimes, and so far I haven’t attracted a plague of trolls. Unlike most people who blog about the things I do, I write under my own name, and although I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not as vulnerable to the most serious consequences of crimethink, I nevertheless have friends and acquaintances who read this blog from time to time, and I have a family (and yes, a personal reputation) to think of. It’s one thing to examine uncomfortable questions, or to push back against propaganda and falsehood; it is quite another to revel in viciousness and needless provocation. Given how electrified these topics are today, and how fraught with terrible history and the darkest of human emotions, it is no sign of timidity to handle them with care and clarity. It is also important to remember always that even when considering the grimmest and most unfortunate realities of human nature and human affairs, the subject, ultimately, concerns human beings — real people, who live and breathe and love and hope and suffer and bleed, just as you and I do. If we lose sight of that in all of this, then we become, in a vitally important moral sense, less human ourselves.

My aim in thinking and writing on these topics is focused only on a better understanding of a few critical questions:

What best fosters and encourages human flourishing?

Why have things seemed to have gone so astray in the modern world, despite obvious advances in material well-being?

What truths of our nature do we deny at our peril?

It’s foolish to romanticize the past, to yearn for a Golden Age that in many ways was never so golden at all, and anyway can never return. But it is equally foolish — indeed, far more so — to revile and reject and discard it all, to imagine that in the world’s long history, the present, radically disruptive era is the first and only flowering of understanding and moral truth. This juvenile and hubristic presentism, this temporal solipsism, it seems to me, is obviously and utterly false, yet it is now hegemonic in our cultural institutions. To me, then, the most clamant question of our time is:

How do we harmonize the wisdom of the past with the unprecedented human context of the present, and of the accelerating and onrushing future? What do we keep, what do we discard, and what must we create?

It’s very easy, especially as we watch our society coming apart both here and abroad, just to choose up sides and focus on the fray. Certainly that’s what we see all around us; it’s just human nature. As Mencken said: “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

I feel that temptation very strongly, and yes, I yield to it sometimes. I’m a fighting man — and the stakes are high, and the crisis very nearly upon us. My own language here is often barely temperate. But it is also essential that some of us, while we still can, be not only warriors, but philosophers; that we seek not blood, but wisdom. When the tempest is upon us, it will be too late.

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  1. A few years ago Thomas Sowell wrote that one of his best new year’s resolution was to stop trying to reason with unreasonable people. Rock solid wisdom that.

    You fought the good fight and lasted longer than most, Malcolm. Your antecedent, Braveheart, would have been proud.

    Posted October 3, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  2. What most people do not realize is that controversial ideas can be stated in way that invites conversation; not to do this, on the other hand, is like ostracism or mockery designed to shut down conversation. Trying to avoid this cycle on the internet, which from Facebook to Wikipedia already resembles graffiti more than sense, falls on those who are least likely to want to do it. I have had to overcome my reservations — having started as a free speech Sysop 30+ years ago — in order to preserve other readers from a torrent of obscenity, cruelty, anger, revenge, bitterness and amateur erotica in which I and other posters are characters. Good luck to you with this recent round of “plentiful insanity versus rare sanity,” the human civilization game.

    Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Thank you both. And Henry, I’m not done yet!

    Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  4. whitewall says

    Regarding controversial ideas…I lifted this bit from Instapundit at 9:20 this morning:


    “For Daniel Patrick Moynihan, it was the racism charges that broke the camel’s back. His famous 1965 report on the pathologies of black culture landed him in a hornet’s nest. “I was not a bigot,” he wrote later, “but the good guys were calling me a racist, while here was this fellow Buckley saying these thoughtful things. Glazer and I began to notice that we were getting treated in National Review with a much higher level of intellectual honesty.”

    Moynihan was just one of many erstwhile-liberals who was startled to find a rare bastion of sanity in National Review. That trickle of refugees from liberalism would prove critical to getting William Buckley’s fledgling conservative movement off the ground. Having once regarded themselves as liberals, many neoconservatives had managed to attain influential mainstream positions that traditionalists of Russell Kirk’s persuasion would likely have found difficult. They were invaluable for raising the movement’s profile. At the same time, their experience and background made them savvy to policy. They would lay the groundwork for conservative policy developments over the next several decades.

    As today’s conservative movement braces for four years under a corrupt, autocratic president, we should note this silver lining: As in Moynihan’s time, liberalism is in terrible shape. Present-day progressivism enjoys a cultural dominance that is somewhat reminiscent of 1960s liberalism. Despite that, the Left is demoralized, paranoid, and intellectually exhausted. Despite legions of high-profile supporters, the Democrats seem unable to win the loyalty of the most anti-traditional generation in American history.

    The time is ripe for recruiting a new crop of ex-liberals. Who’s ready to get mugged by reality?”

    Fifty years ago, certain truths could not be spoken in the culture war, not even by such a man as Pat Moynihan. One day, something will give.

    Posted October 4, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm,

    I didn’t mean to imply that you are done blogging! I should have been more specific. I meant that you might rethink the necessity to institute comment moderation.

    I believe it is prudent to moderate blog commentary in today’s unruly, if not downright hostile online environments. Why subject yourself to hordes of fanatical trolls? You can’t reason with them; you can’t make them go away. Your only option is to deprive them of a platform from which they can vent their irrational hatreds.

    Posted October 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    We’ll see how it goes.

    Posted October 4, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink