Thursday, January 31, 2013

The New Conservative Barbarians

Not too long after Bobby Jindal announced that Republicans need to stop being the "stupid party," a third Republican governor threw his support behind plans for higher education that base funding on the profitability of the different academic disciplines. Patrick McRory, North Carolina's governor, singled out the liberal arts—and specifically philosophy—as an example of the frivolities that did not merit state support.

This reflects a broader move among Republican governors. According to Inside Higher Ed: "McCrory’s comments on higher education echo statements made by a number of Republican governors – including those in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin—who have questioned the value of liberal arts instruction and humanities degrees at public colleges and universities."

It is perhaps difficult to avoid the self-inflicted label of the "stupid party" when one cannot come up with a good reason to support education apart from its profitability. Is there a reason to support literacy apart from the benefits an educated workforce provides? Is the ability to read and reflect something of great intrinsic worth or not? The trend on the right appears to be toward the latter.

Had McRory been competently educated, he would have been able to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic goods. An intrinsic good is something valuable for its own sake, while an extrinsic good is valuable for some further purpose. Money is an extrinsic good: it has value only because it secures further goods. Love is an intrinsic good: one seeks love for its own sake. Intrinsic goods are superior to extrinsic goods: a purely extrinsic goods is not valuable in its own right, but derives its value solely from its relation to some further good.

Education leads to a number of different goods. An education is valuable because it leads to a job. Jobs are usually extrinsic goods, valuable because they lead to an income (another extrinsic good.) Most jobs, unfortunately, are not valued in their own right: Were one not paid, one would not work.

But a liberal arts education also serves an intrinsic good: the intellectually fulfilled life. One who learns to reflect on human nature from the work of Homer and Shakespeare, or to pursue wisdom with Plato and Aquinas, or beauty with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci pursues these activities for their own sake. The intellectual life is perfect in the sense that it is its own primary purpose.

The public pursuit of intrinsic goods—truth, beauty, wisdom, the good, etc.—is central to Western civilization. It is very odd indeed to call a person "conservative" who struggles to find a reason to conserve our cultural heritage.

A civilization that only pursues material advantage, neglects the arts, and lacks intellectual vitality has nothing worthwhile to pass on to posterity. Those who have difficulty imagining why any great social energy ought to be expended on the higher things in life are simply barbarians. For what else is barbarism than the sort of cultural indolence that does not privilege intrinsic goods, chief among which stand the humanities?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ten arguments in defense of marriage (Part I)

In the very excellent Touchstone Magazine, Anthony Esolen has given given ten arguments why same-sex marriage would be bad for society:

Most people believe that the principal objections, or even the only objections, to the drive to legalize homosexual “marriage” spring from religious faith. But that is not true. I can offer ten objections that have nothing to do with any religion at all, except insofar as the great religions of the world reflect the nature of mankind
Read the first six of these ten arguments here.

Why some critics don't like Les Miserables

The reviews of Les Misérables have been mostly positive, but a significant contingent of critics have been, not just negative, but hostile. On the surface, it's hard not to surmise that some of the hostility comes from the explicit and unapologetic Christian message. But Stanley Fish has put his finger on something deeper, and I suspect he's right.

He points out that the real voices of the actors and director Tom Hooper's penchant for bringing the camera right into the actor's face has deprived critics of the critical distance they need to put themselves above what they are critiquing:
The key to what is intended by these technical choices was provided for me by Hooper himself when he remarked in an interview (also printed in USA Today) that while “we live in a postmodern age where a certain amount of irony is expected, [t]his film is made without irony.” Irony is a stance of distance that pays a compliment to both its producer and consumer. The ironist knows what other, more naïve, observers do not: that surfaces are deceptive, that the real story is not what presents itself, that conventional pieties are sentimental fictions. 
The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.

...Endless high passion and basic human emotions indulged in without respite are what “Les Misérables” offers in its refusal to afford the distance that enables irony. Those who call the movie flat, shallow, sentimental and emotionally manipulative are not wrong; they just fail to see that what appear to them to be bad cinematic choices (in addition to prosaic lyrics that repel aesthetic appreciation, and multiple reprises of simple musical themes) are designed to achieve exactly the result they lament — an almost unbearable proximity to raw, un-ironized experience. They just can’t go with it. And why should they? After all, the critic, and especially the critic who perches in high journalistic places, needs to have a space in which he can insert himself and do the explicatory work he offers to a world presumed to be in need of it. “Les Misérables,” taken on its own terms, leaves critics with nothing to do except join the rhythms of rapt silence, crying and applause, and it is understandable that they want nothing to do with it.
I went to see it with most of my children, all of which do not like musicals. They all liked this one, some very much. I think it was one of the best things I've ever seen on screen.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lexington Latin School Open House tonight at 5:30

I will be speaking tonight at Lexington Latin School at 5:30. I will be speaking on the topic: "What is Education." The directions are here.

Neuhaus's Law: Why a policy of appeasement with the Tolerance Police will never work

The expression "tolerance and diversity" operates the same way within the liberal secularism as the expression "libery, equality, fraternity" operated within the French Revolution: it is a comforting sounding slogan that hides a totalitarian impulse. If the Boy Scouts of America think they can really appease the cultural totalitarians in the PC movement, they are sorely mistaken.

The blog First Thoughts reminds us today of "Neuhaus's Law," which states, "Where orthodoxy is option, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” As First Thoughts points out, there are already gay activists who are saying that the Boys Scouts proposed policy is not enough.

You can't make cultural treaties with these people. They will break every one of them.

Here is Neuhaus expanding on his maxim:
With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps.
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tolerance Police bust the Boy Scouts

Ze vorzez of Toleranze are poised vonce again to claim victory in zeir battle to eliminate beliefz zat differ from zeir own.

Apparently succumbing to increasing pressure from the champions of Diversity (who will brook no opinion but their own) the Boy Scouts of America have apparently got hauled into the Politically Correct Ministry of Love a few too many times for their taste. It now appears poised to change its policy on accepting members--and scoutmasters--who are not "morally straight" (part of the scouting oath).

Let us all repeat together:


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is same-sex marriage déclassé?

Okay, it's quiz time!

QUESTION: Which culturally backward, socially retrograde country is experience massive protests against a proposed law legalizing same-sex marriage:

a. Albania
b. India
c. Bhutan
d. France
e. Massachusetts

And the ANSWER is ... France. Seriously.

Now if I had to pick the country least likely to have a problem with same-sex marriage, I would pick France. And yet there have been huge protests about a same-sex marriage law in Paris. Some estimates put the number in the street protesting at over 800,000. It is the hottest issue going there now.

Now these are people who you would think would be socially cutting edge on all things sexual. But no. I can't make sense of it. Maybe they're not as bad as I thought. My wife on the other hand, who has spent time in France, has her own theory, which is based on a keen insight into the French character: Every other country has redefined marriage to allow same-sex marriage. Therefore, the French should oppose it.

I've got to hand it to her here. She may be right.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Brent Musburger and the sexual counter-revolution

Liberalism gets more absurd by the moment.

The recent dust-up over sportscaster Brent Musburger's remarks during the national championship college football game about Miss Alabama reveal once again just how preposterous modern secular liberal culture has become. It is another bit of evidence that when a culture no longer has an actual religion to provide its centripetal force, it spins off into silly absurdities.

We can now put the protest over Musburger's remarks down as one more example of the weird sort of sexual puritanism that is coming to characterize it.

Musburger remarked on the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A. J. McKarron, Katherine Webb, saying that she was a “lovely lady” and “beautiful." He turned to his broadcast partner Kirk Herbstreit and said, "you quarterbacks get all the good-looking women."

Well, apparently, this is a severe breach of propriety among the stuffy new feminist schoolmarms who have placed themselves in the position of cultural hall monitors and have proceeded to write Musburger up on charges of, well, we're not quite sure. The New York Times gives us the skinny ..., er, I mean, tells us the full extent of Musburger's infamy:
“It’s extraordinarily inappropriate to focus on an individual’s looks,” said Sue Carter, a professor of journalism at Michigan State. “In this instance, the appearance of the quarterback’s girlfriend had no bearing on the outcome of the game. It’s a major personal violation, and it’s so retrograde that it’s embarrassing. I think there’s a generational issue, but it’s incumbent on people practicing in these eras to keep up and this is not a norm.”
"Retrograde"? Seriously? Maybe in the austere environs of "Women's and Gender Studies" department (or next door at the journalism school), but some of us still remark on beauty when and where we see it. In any case, I think we can officially announce that the sexual revolution is eating its own young.

This kind of thing, of course, is not uncharacteristic of left-wing movements. In communist countries, for example, there were severe strictures on sexual conduct and even dress.

After a frontal hand salute and click of her heals, Carter continues:
“I think because sports has been such a male-dominated domain, he obviously felt license and privilege and he’s been able to do that for years,” Carter said. “But the masculine aspect of sports is changing.”
Right. Women will soon be playing football and the cheerleaders will be selected from the least physically attractive women on college campuses. Mark your calendar.

But what is so utterly nonsensical is that, in our celebrity culture, we have a veritable worship of appearance. Yet our intellectual culture prominently features feminists who stand there, their arms folded and lips pursed, wagging their fingers at everybody else but Hollywood for remarking on somebody's appearance. They exist side-by-side, Janus-like, in a strange sort of alliance.

And sports programming is supposed to ignore anything that does "bear on the outcome of the game"? Oh c'mon. They do it all the time. Are they going to dispatch a contingent from the National Organization for Women on Super Bowl Sunday to lament the fact that Beyoncé is doing the halftime show? Of course we all know that her looks had nothing to do with her career success, but how does that bear on the outcome of the game?

Oh, and have you noticed anything about all these new female sportscasters? You know, the ones who all look like they missed their calling as cover girls? Not a blemish to be seen. I know what you're thinking: that's soooo, I don't know, retrograde to say that. So if it's retrograde to say it, why is it not retrograde to do it?

So we know that Webb, the one about whom Musburger's remarks were made, must be scandalized by all this. Right? Well, not exactly. Here how the Times reports Webb's response:
“It was kind of nice,” Webb told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I didn’t look at it as creepy at all. For a woman to be called beautiful, I don’t see how that’s an issue."
Woah! Is this girl from, like, the 12th century or something?

If I ever see Sue Carter, professor of journalism at Michigan State, I'm going to remark on how nice she looks in that outfit.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tolerance Police chase off pastor from Obama inaugural for "anti-gay" comments

Passion City Church founder and pastor Louie Giglio has been removed from President Obama's second inaugural program. He had been slated to give the inaugural prayer until it was discovered that the had said negative things about homosexuality in an old sermon.

At that point, the Tolerance Police once again swung into action, cracking down on Giglio for voicing the Christian view that homosexuality is a sin, and therefore to be forbidden in a tolerant society.

You have to be so intolerant and uniform to be tolerant and diverse these days.

Wait 'till these people find out that the guy they're inaugurating was opposed to gay marriage until just a year ago.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Liberals in Kentucky House discover diversity

It was reported today that Sannie Overly (D-Paris) beat out Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville) for the position of Majority Caucus Chairman, one of the five Democratic leadership posts in the House (if you count Speaker and Floor Leader, which are technically bipartisan posts but are controlled by the majority party).

The big story in the media is that Overly is the first woman to occupy a leadership spot in the House.

Undoubtedly we will hear in the ensuing days a lot of Democrats in the House slapping themselves on the back about how diverse they now are. But conservatives in the Senate—you know, the ones who are against equality and all that—have had women in leadership positions for, what, ten or twelve years now? And the liberals who run the State House—the ones who are always talking about equality for women—are just now getting around to it?