A familiar driver

If you spend a lot of time commuting, you have seen something just like this guy.

Maybe you’re trapped behind a semi and he’s the one zooming around you despite your blinker and your patient wait for passing room. Maybe you were already passing, in which case he’s riding your bumper like you hitched him up, eager to dart through a gap approximately six inches larger than his own car. Maybe you’re stopped altogether and he’s rolling the shoulder.

In any scenario the common denominator is that you are In His Way, much like one of these unfathomable stacks of pixel and polygon:

Same concept, really. Jack Baruth quotes the Last Psychiatrist’s definition of narcissism, that the narcissist is the star of his own movie. Even that, I think, might sell it short, unless the movie is an epic in a Cinematic Universe and he’s the only one with standalone films. But watching that fool in the race video slaloming around all the other drivers put me much more in mind of a video game player. After all, in a movie there may be one major star but the other characters are, at least, characters… in a video game a person might be the only actual human player, and everyone else around him is by definition obstacles to surmount: some enemy to dispatch, or someone whose sole purpose to exist is to give him the geegaw that completes a quest or lets him defeat the level boss. Or worst of all, just something that is stupidly, pointlessly blocking his way when he has Important Him Stuff to be done.

Well, eff you for being In His Way.

I will admit that I haven’t read the comments there yet, so I don’t know if one of those folks has made either of these connections. I was away for a week and missed the column at the time. Still worth bringing up here not only for the video game player angle, but also because it was the first thing I noticed when I was watching the embed at Riverside Green… this guy didn’t notice that suddenly he was torching a track full of cars? Even from the camera I could see the flags he tore past, but more to the point, I also saw that very few, if any, of the other drivers were trying to block him or – and this is key – pass each other. Sure, he’s dusting them so in his mind, haha, they can’t catch me… but they would also be trying to move up all around him. Even in a racing game the CPU drivers are jockeying with each other for position.

So in one way, this guy is worse than a video game player because even that detail misses his notice. But beyond this, I brought up commuting because anyone with even passing familiarity with highway driving recognizes the signs of a whole roadway slowing down, even in mid-pass: it means the State Patrol is waiting on the shoulder, harvesting the ignorant. So even if this gentleman was just a dabbler in his very first road race, he should have picked up on this. It takes no skill. All you need to do is not be obsessed with what’s going on in your own imagination.

(As an added wrinkle – I was on an out-of-state trip to visit with family when I missed Jack’s post. It’s a substantial, all-day-in-the-car affair to make the trip, more apt a comparison to an endurance race like the one shown than is a daily commute, even a lengthy one. You have to keep aware at all times. If the trip’s 12 hours, it’s not good enough to be crash-free for 11:58 and then tell everyone “Eh, what can you do, right?” while they airflight out the family in the minivan you crushed. You are the jockey, not the horse, and cannot drive with blinders on.)

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A quick talk about cancelled talk

Ho-hum, another day, another disinvited speaker.

Something about the account (excerpted below) stuck in my craw, and I’ll get to why in a minute. But first, let’s catch up with the facts.

Middlebury College has canceled a campus speech by conservative Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko in response to planned protests by liberal activists.

A professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University and a member of the European Parliament, Legutko was scheduled to speak Wednesday at the Vermont college’s Alexander Hamilton Forum, delivering a lecture entitled “The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies.” A member of the anti-Communist Polish resistance during the Cold War, Legutko warns that western democracy is also susceptible to creep towards totalitarianism.

Why? Well, he doesn’t pay much respect to the proper current pieites, of course. It’s all too common a story today – an institution allegedly devoted to free thought and higher learning refusing to let its students learn something new and think for themselves. The excuse they use will be familiar as well to anyone who follows current affairs and is familiar with the Orwellian inversion of words and reality:

“Inquiry, equity, and agency cannot be fostered in the same space that accepts and even elevates homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic discourse,” they demand. “Bigotry of any kind should not be considered a form of inquiry.”

I don’t know about any of that, and neither do the would-be protesters to Prof. Legutko’s presentation, since he was never permitted to give it. What I do know is that stopping other people’s ears to anything that doesn’t come from one’s own mouth is actual bigotry, and it seems much more likely that such would-be tyrants have, shall we say, ulterior motives for shutting down a speech about how tyranny might arise in the West.

In fact, at first the college held firm, until, mere hours before the event, word came from on high, citing the normal problems with “ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff, and community members.”

“This decision was not taken lightly. It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response.”

In other words, these jokers learned exactly the lesson they were meant to learn from the incident involving Charles Murray’s talk there two years prior. The hecklers didn’t even need to veto this one. And the next time, things will go down even smoother… until the day when things suddenly go down very hard indeed, and everyone wonders how and why such a thing could happen – and then comes to the exact wrong answers because of all the times they’ve been ignoring people like Prof. Legutko.

In any case, a story like this is so common that anyone hearing it is likely to shrug and move on… which gets us to the thing I noticed, that bothered me so, and that I’m going to share with you. See if you can spot the difference in comparison to the lead quote up top:

Middlebury College has canceled a campus speech by Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko in response to planned protests by activists.

If it were written that way, would people still be upset? Would they bemoan that an institution of higher learning would let its pursuit of knowledge and debate be thwarted by mere foot-stamping… or would they absolutely need to know first more about the viewpoints of the professor and the foot-stampers before they decided if it was good or bad?

THAT’S what sticks in my craw right now. Not just the intellectual ghetto and the last-minute cancellation (done of course so that no alternative venue could be arranged), but that even in the reporting of it, it must be specified that the speaker was conservative and the activists liberals. The point isn’t just that such things only run one way – it’s that they should not run at all, regardless of which nouns get what adjectives.

Eventually you’d have to get around to saying what the talk was about and why the activists were in a snit, of course… but I think that pointing out the specifics in the lead sentence just accepts an unhealthy premise: namely that it’s wrong based on the identities of the parties involved. That just gets our side – remember, the side that’s supposed to stand for personal and intellectual freedom and the marketplace of ideas – to subconsciously think in the other side’s terms of Good Group vs. Bad Group. Without those details, you encourage the reader to actually try to think about WHY this is wrong, and thus have more of an informed opinion, instead of relying on pre-digested conclusions based on labels. Its wrongness doesn’t depend on the point of view of the speaker or the protesters.

The Estonian Who Went Up a Hotel Lobby and Came Down a Mountain

If one of us stumbled out of a roaring party and got a little disoriented trying to get back to our hotel room, we might wind up crashing at a buddy’s house… or in an Uber headed three states away… but which of us would have the oomph to stagger drunkenly up the side of a snowy alpine peak?

An Estonian tourist known as Pavel, had one too many drinks at Cervinia Resort when he decided to call it a night and head back to his hotel. Unfortunately, he took a wrong turn and began heading up the mountainside.

After a few hours he realized he was not on the correct floor (so to speak), so he did what any enterprising fellow would do, and broke into a different restaurant to sleep it off. Rescuers found him there, safe and sound.

No doubt, if he had been located by one of the famed St. Bernard rescue dogs, he’d have drained the cask and carried the bewildered pup back to the monastery for free refills.

What makes a red pill grow?

I’ve been thinking about this post from e-migo Severian (and the two posts preceding it) for a little while now.

I used to think it was an accident, or a quirk, that so many of the hard Left are so gung-ho to erase competition among youngsters – you know, the whole “everybody bats and nobody keeps score” sort of thing, not using red pen to grade (and making judgments of correct and incorrect open to interpretation), replacing actual learning and character formation with “affirmation” and “self-esteem”… in matters great and small, insulating generations of kids from the tough-yet-healthy lessons about not getting one’s own way all the time.

Now I realize it was calculated. All their blather about the Brotherhood of Man is a lie. They *want* people who never learned how to handle success and failure with grace, in order to convince them that those things are completely beyond any person’s control, and therefore “the system” itself is the problem – randomly assigning riches and power to the undeserving! You should be successful too! And since these fools never learned what it takes to gain success for themselves – never even dreamed it was possible – they fall headlong for it. “It’s NOT MY FAULT!” is a helluva drug. And in their case, it might even be true… but they’re aiming all their rage and frustration in the wrong direction. The pushers are the ones who made them what they are, for their own purposes, and they won’t be any more successful under the Perfect Order… they’ll be “the foundation” of such a regime in the most literal sense: dead and buried, with the headquarters of the Order built upon their graves. Because what use will they be as anything but loyal human shields for the Brights, the Elites?

Can they be convinced that it was, in fact, a gigantic lie to make them into drones? Tough call. For one thing, being among the glorious fallen in the “vanguard of the proletariat” is given great weight, so many of them often delight in the realization that they’ve been turned into mulch for future crops of fellow drones. For another, they’ve been taught defiance of reality as a virtue. It serves as an effective inoculation against those annoying gleams of real thought and feeling.

CS Lewis was so good about so much of this: the Screwtape Letters talks a lot about denying “the patient” any contact with real pleasures or pains, even if they are “innocent” or seemingly inconsequential, because they are cracks in the perfect shell of unreality, and who knows what will happen then? And The Pilgrim’s Regress has that great chapter in the giant’s prison. Reason has killed the Giant Zeitgeist and freed the prisoners, but those who have been under his care too long are too afraid to come out, and lock themselves back in once the protagonist and his troublesome rescuer have gone.

(And just as an aside – Regress was Lewis’ first major work, even before Screwtape, and the “hero” is rather a bungling everyman whom the “strong female character” Reason often keeps track of and saves. It wasn’t a one-off either, as Lewis’ favorite Narnian protagonist was clearly Lucy Pevensie, and his last novel, Till We Have Faces, is entirely from the POV of the main character, Queen Oural of Glome. Enough to make modern heads all splodey-sploo that the mean ol’ Christian patriarchy has so many examples like this, beloved by us thought criminals.)

So to the task at hand – tossing a line to those who have jumped overboard from the Barque of Mankind, after being told by frauds that since water is essential to life, they can go ahead and breathe it. The good news is that rescues happen all the time. In truth, every last one of us is one. Hence we ought not to despair; people are “redpilled” all the time, as the hep kids were calling it for a while. But we ought also to soberly reckon on the odds. The Perfect Order punishes apostates most grievously of all, as a warning to the rest… and that’s only if they can even get that far. Remember that lies always bear that superficial resemblance to the truths they’re designed to replace, usually by a simple re-ordering of good things into an unhealthy heirarchy: for example, people betray all truth and decency, but consider themselves true and decent, because they are being loyal to their side and Loyalty Is A Good Thing. In fact, it may be the only good thing they’ve got left, and thus the sufferer will cling all the more to it. Hence, being shown that “it was all a lie” actually reinforces what they’ve been told by the master liars, and so the cure looks suspiciously like more of the same if they’ve been “handled properly,” to use Screwtape’s expression.

This is why it’s often something unexpected that first raises the questions that their current life cannot answer. All the logic and argument in the world can be spun off into pointless tangents, buried under jargon, handwaved by dialectical hocus-pocus… but a real love for a real thing, be it as simple as gardening or pottery or watercolors, can be the spark. Simple friendship, a real thing with real loyalty and real compassion, can be the steady fire that shows how cold and hollow it is to center all relationships around power and zero-sum attitudes. The best advantage we have is that real things are real. The frauds always show themselves as such by betraying the thing they claimed was the Good Thing: the “we frikkin’ LOVE science” folks end up suborning science in favor of activism; feminist “allies” all turn out to be stealth predators; the prophets who cry “success and failure are random and undeserved” nonetheless promise their followers the power to determine success and failure for all the world; in the pinch the “you must be loyal to the Party” crowd won’t be loyal to anyone… but just when everyone else in the world has shunned you for taking them at their word, when you stand condemned for actually trying to live as they commanded you to, it’s boring old Joe and Jane from the craft shop who suddenly show up at the door because you’ve seemed down lately, and they want to help.

Doctor New

And there it is.

Like many current events, the reaction to “the backlash” far outweighs the backlash itself: nowadays the revolution will be televised, but nobody will tune in. Revolution is clean out of style. And in this sense, the BBC is way late to the party: they sex-swapped the Doctor’s venerable enemy, the Master, and pretty much nobody cared. And that follows years of other substantial changes to beloved characters the world over, none of which really have done much – either they’ve gone back to the old status quo ante, or else the changes killed the story – and after enough of that, well, the law of diminishing returns sets in. As a means of drumming up some welcome controversy to goose flagging viewership numbers, the Lady Doctor thus fails on two counts: it’s not all that controversial, and it entirely misses the reason why viewers have been falling away. And that reason can really be summed in three words:

STORY IS KING.

So, as for this change? Well, if it serves the story, sure, it could work, and Jodie Whittaker has a fine reputation in her field. But increasingly, it serves merely as the punchline to a joke nobody is telling. I doubt that THIS is the time we’ll all finally laugh. And on those terms alone, this is probably something the BBC should not have done.

But of course, they didn’t do it for story reasons, and that’s another substantial objection…

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If it is “go time,” where do we go?

Severian, Morgan, and a few of the emigos had a good email exchange in reply to the attempted assassinations of some Republican congressmen by a violent Leftist. Or – to be more precise – the email chain wasn’t so much about the assassination itself, but of the open and unrestrained celebration of the attempt by a non-trivial portion of the country.* We’re not talking mere fringe kooks, either, but plenty of persons gainfully employed in media and entertainment, who hold themselves out as respectable and conduct themselves as if they, and not their critics, are the reasonable ones.

Naturally, the critics might also be unreasonable, but as CS Lewis pointed out, Hell sends its errors into the world in pairs of opposites, hoping that you will fight the one by turning into the other: fighting sloth with wrath, or cowardice with recklessness. The true solution is to insist on the true thing, with the certain knowledge that it is stronger than any of the twisted copies. Courage is stronger than recklessness and beats it at its own game… but the trick is to be really courageous and to stick with it even at the moment where it seems that wild abandon is about to triumph.

I’m not seeing much of that in society today. That’s to be expected; the pendulum never swings to the middle and then stops there, and we also have to deal with the human propensity to revel in finally getting one’s own back. Given that we’ve been living for decades in a society where courtesy, restraint, and principle have been taking it on the chin, it’s even less surprising that those who have thus suffered find much less use for those things.

As I understand it, the Alt-Right has a pretty simple flowchart: they see that the Left has, without scruple or pity, slowly but surely ratcheted the culture and the law ever-further to their ultimate goal. They see an opponent who has been utterly contemptuous of the many warnings against dismantling the Western traditions and underpinnings of civilization: <i>”When the Devil turns round on you, where will you hide, the laws all being flat? Will you be able to stand upright in the winds that would then blow?”</i> As a result, it’s time to reap the whirlwind, and the Alt-Right plans to be the sickle and thresher… and they’re in no mood for “cucks” and “betas” who insist that the above warnings apply to us as well.

The flaw should be obvious. Just as the Left will not always be in power, neither shall the Right… so ultimately the sickle and thresher will pass to the next party, and they in turn will be in no mood to say, well, now we’ve learned our lesson and we must all play friendly. They’re the ones who would stick at nothing before all this happened – what are the odds that they will suddenly find their conscience while smarting from their fresh wounds? For the Alt-Right’s plans to “work” they basically have to remain in power forever, and the only way to do that is to become in practice the very thing they’re in such reaction against, only without even the pretense of the forms of justice. There’s a reason why totalitarian regimes still have sham elections and show trials; would the Alt-Right bother with that, or simply dispense with the pretenses in favor of a muscular honesty?

I’m reminded of the Justice League episode where the heroes are dragged into an alternate dimension where their counterparts have imposed just such an order. No crime, but also no freedom; the Justice Lords (as they are now called) rule. And what the show could not address (but it would have been fascinating)… what happens when the Lords themselves grow old and die? All of them eventually would, perhaps excepting Wonder Woman. Without the godlike power required to maintain such a regime, it would collapse in devastation and ruin.

And yet… well, practicing restraint when your opponent offers none has gotten us in quite a mess indeed. The Alt-Right have correctly diagnosed the situation of the moment, which is that the rules are only ever used in one direction. And they also correctly recognize that merely wringing our hands and bemoaning the state of affairs doesn’t actually correct them. I’ve written it before: “It can’t happen here” is a fiction. Every other place it’s happened, has been one of those places it could never happen – many individual civilizations have collapsed in ruin, conquered from without or decayed from within, with all the misery and decades to rebuild. Those who’ve gone quisling in the face of a spiteful foe have earned every ounce of the contempt shown them.

So it is necessary to fight back, and not merely complain or mourn – and the question remains, how do we fight?

It should be plain that to simply ignore the rules ourselves is not going to suddenly spawn a newfound respect for rules, either among the vanquished or the conquering. A vaccine only works because it contains a dead or weakened form of the disease your body must learn to fight – if you injected the real illness you would kill everybody.  We are faced with the rise of those who think that lining everyone up for the full dosage will result in robust health all around… or else those who have gone past the point of caring, and want it all torn down.

On the one hand, we have the tyrannical foe… and on the other, we are faced with either becoming their slaves, or their replacements. One way or another, that leaves us holding one end of a chain that binds.

I have no desire to live as an insect in a hive, beholden to the all-powerful State; neither do I wish to live in a kill-or-be-killed post-apocalypse wasteland. It is no good fighting Oceania with Bartertown. Like it or not, if civilization is to endure at all, it has to remain civilized. If there is to be a revolution, it has to be one of law and virtue against mere force. And that takes a conscious effort. One doesn’t drift away from virtue and default to a more primitive, yet still healthy, sense of honor. That state of affairs was itself a long, hard-fought victory against the true default of savagery and horror. We have a society that turns its nose up against the work required to do even that much and yet expects that the results of all that work will survive.

To echo John C Wright in his post here… may heaven preserve us from such folly.

*We have also to deal with their allies who, while not celebrating such things, lay down cover for them in the form of moral equivocations. (“Liberal-conservative vitriol” indeed.) But that is a topic deserving its own post.

The day I’ll always remember

Only for my family it’s today, December 22nd, and not September 3rd.

Oct 25, 1949 - Dec 22, 1991

I am not sure how others may feel when losing a parent at a young age; for me, the absence is always there. In the beginning this was “standard” personal grief, five-stages stuff, but as I’ve grown older and become a father as well, it’s less overt. It strikes me more that I’m not just missing him, directly, but missing him in relation to everyone else I love. Things are subtly out of context because he’s not with us.

For example, my son has his Baba, my wife’s dad, and each loves the other dearly. It’s a blessing and a great joy. Watching them, sometimes, the absence will suddenly poke up from the background and make itself known: my son doesn’t have both Babas there. I have no doubt that Dad would have doted to distraction on The Lad, as he would have done to my sister’s son.

My father was not one to be uninvolved. I think he would have enjoyed talking shop with my wife’s father, chatting about families, retirement, politics. I picture him still drawing, only now putting the stuff up on Instagram; getting after me to write more; finding a part-time job somewhere to enjoy during his retirement. He’d be amazed if he came back now to learn that they made three more Star Trek series, five more Star Wars films, and that my Atari 2600 games had eventually morphed into near-photo-realistic experiences, influenced heavily by the mainstreaming of anime – which he only saw on the fringes of popular culture, or else in dumbed-down, highly-edited versions for children such as Battle of the Planets, Star Blazers, or Speed Racer.

In our family he was the “everyday” cook – Mom handled holidays for the most part, and the rest of the time Dad was playing culinary Frankenstein, cadging ingredients into an impromptu family dinner. It’s been a long time since we’ve done that, and not just because all three of us kids are adults now.

He’d be stopping by during the season, jibing me for going over the top with holiday gift-giving while steadfastly forgetting that he’s the source of that habit of mine; in turn we’d tease him because his normal gruff baritone became a Michael McDonald falsetto whenever he sang. And he would laugh and sing anyway, because he loved music and it was nearly always playing in our home. He probably would have bought one of the earliest iPods and kept up with the technology the whole time, while figuring out a way to get all his albums, cassettes, and 8-tracks digitized – because why should you pay for it all twice?

I am now two years and several weeks older than he was when he passed away, twenty-five years ago today.

Here’s to you, Dad.