Changing the Context
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Xtra! Xtra! Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, is re-releasing "Barefoot Running" on September 20th! To celebrate the book launch and our Fall Tour, we put together this fun book tour trailer. Follow our adventures this fall as we stop in every major city - Phily, NY, Boston, LA, San Fran, Atlanta, Chicago, DC, Miami and many more! A full schedule on www.runbare.com coming soon. Pass the word along!
The context for events in True Grit is not merely physical and devoid of logic. Rather, it involves love of place, filial bonds, the bonds of friendship, the politics of Reconstruction, Christian faith, the nature of justice, and the interplay of virtue with heroism and grace with works. Evidence indicates the displacement of this context is the ultimate objective of the Coen brothers and their academic admirer.
The White Stag was written the year my father was born. In my youth you could find books that old and much older, plenty of them, in small town public libraries all over the country. Nowadays, increasingly, you can’t. What you get instead are shelf upon shelf of whatever’s new, glossy, popular and uncontroversial, massaged into innocuousness by marketing specialists and oozing a fetid layer of movie, toy, and video game tie-ins from all orifices, all part of the feedback loop that endlessly recycles the clichés of current popular culture into minds that, in many cases, have never encountered anything else. In the process, the threads of our collective memory are coming silently apart.
I don’t think it’s going too far to describe the result as a kind of cultural senility. That concept certainly goes a long way to explain the blank and babbling incoherence with which America in particular stares vacantly at its onrushing fate. Without a sense of the past and its meaning, without narratives that weave the events of our daily lives into patterns that touch the principles that matter, we lack the essential raw materials of thought, and so our collective reasoning processes, such as they are, spit out the same rehashed nonsolutions over and over again.
It is hard to know to what extent this is a matter of ethnic solidarity, religious solidarity, or (most likely) a combination of both. But it is impressive, and praiseworthy. And it is not surprising, either, given the far higher levels of community cohesion and socially beneficial values held by the UK's Muslim community.
Ideally, the liberal seeks a cosmopolitanism of impartiality, one that calls for “public reasons” that everyone can agree on. It’s a classical ideal of cosmopolitanism based on a vision of universal reason safely above the particular religious and moral beliefs that often serve as the source of discord and division. A laudable goal, perhaps, but in point of fact this ideal tends to undermine rather than promote solidarity. Those who imagine themselves to have attained the universality of reason preside at a distance, casting themselves in the roles of referee and judge responsible for determining whose reasons are “public” or indeed “reasonable.”
Or worse, they become cultural therapists, anointed experts in the supposed pathologies of conviction and cultural conflict. The therapeutic ethos receives support in present-day liberalism from a widespread skepticism that seems the opposite of older beliefs in universal reason but turns out to lead to the same governing mentality. We can’t know moral or religious truths, we are told, and to know that we can’t know creates the paradoxical imperative to denounce moral imperatives so that we can manage our differences in an “inclusive” and “nonjudgmental” fashion.
Judge or referee, therapist or manager, the liberal governs from above. This distance—the conviction that liberalism has somehow transcended the nitty-gritty of substantive debate and attained a higher outlook—is what allows the old-fashioned rationalists like Steven Pinker to ally themselves with postmodern skeptics in the liberal establishment. The liberal maintains his distance, exempting himself (or imagining himself exempted) from the agonies of the always morally, metaphysically, and religiously fraught content of important human interactions. It’s this insulating distance, along with a therapeutic understanding of those below them, that encourages unwarranted feelings of superiority. The liberal does not see the conservative as a man or woman with ideas and convictions to be engaged but as a person with prejudices and interests to be diagnosed and treated.
Although liberals like to think that those who remain conservative have somehow evaded or insulated themselves from these challenges, the reality is that conservatives have participated in modernity just as fully. Traditional social and religious views have often (though not always) been criticized for good reasons. We don’t want our daughters’ futures to be limited in the way roles for women were at the beginning of the modern era, nor do we mourn the passing of racial segregation and the indignities of Jim Crow.
Take our Prime Minister, who is once again defrauding far too many people. He uses his expensive voice, his expensive clothes, his well-learned tone of public-school command, to give the impression of being an effective and decisive person. But it is all false. He has no real idea of what to do. He thinks the actual solutions to the problem are ‘fascist’. Deep down, he still wants to ‘understand’ the hoodies.
Say to him that naughty children should be smacked at home and caned in school, that the police (and responsible adults) should be free to wallop louts and vandals caught in the act, that the police should return to preventive foot patrols, that prisons should be austere places of hard work, plain food and discipline without TV sets or semi-licit drugs, and that wrongdoers should be sent to them when they first take to crime, not when they are already habitual crooks, and he will throw up his well-tailored arms in horror at your barbarity.
Say to him that divorce should be made very difficult and that the state should be energetically in favour of stable, married families with fathers (and cease forthwith to subsidise families without fathers) and he will smirk patronisingly and regard you as a pitiable lunatic.
Say to him that mass immigration should be stopped and reversed, and that those who refuse any of the huge number of jobs which are then available should be denied benefits of any kind, and he will gibber in shock.
Yet he is ready to authorise the use of water cannon and plastic bullets on our streets (quite useless, as it happens, against this sort of outbreak) as if we were a Third World despotism.
Water cannon and plastic bullets indeed. What an utter admission of failure, that after 50 years of the most lavish welfare state in the solar system, you cannot govern your country without soaking the citizenry in cold water and bombarding them with missiles from a safe distance. Except, of course, that it is because of the welfare system that this is so.