April 26, 2005

"They don’t dare stand up in their own defense because it’s not the attractive thing to do."

Did RLC take a big lurch right yesterday?
Meanwhile, relativist leftists are starting to look more and more like their liberal, well–bred counterparts in Chekhov’s plays: sitting around chatting amusingly about their own helplessness and the need to reform society. They don’t dare stand up in their own defense because it’s not the attractive thing to do.

And what are we to think of people who not only disagree with you but stop being your friend after you say you think Mozart is better than gamelan music? Our own John Cohen -- the ambitious baby, below -- has a nice contribution in the comments:
I've had many conversations with Madisonians along the lines of your conversation with your friend about Mozart and Indonesian gamelan music. It amazes me how friends of mine who have devoted enormous amounts of time toward honing their own artistic talents can turn around and insist that no evaluation of artistic merit can possibly have any authority. If no art is better than any other art, then what motivation does the artist have to perfect his or her craft?
What, full-out fingerpainting self-esteem is not enough?


KCFleming said...

Mr. Cohen made an essential observation:
"This issue is important today because Western civilization really is under an imminent threat, perhaps more in Europe than in this country. Islamic militants understand this and European leftists do not."

Much like finding that the music of Mozart is of a higher order than Steely Dan, hip hop, or gamelan, the recognition that Western civilization is superior to some other cultures is a truth that cannot be uttered in certain circles.

Recognizing that there is a real threat to Western civilization by the forces of barbarism is, it would seem, basic to survival. But not from the relativists. To them, the Constitution is a suicide pact, such that any attempt to defend its precepts is portrayed as just another injustice by the hegemon.

The only things my relativist colleagues seem able to deem superior without wincing is their purchase of homes in exclusive neighborhoods. I live next to Indonesians near downtown Rochester. They listen to Indonesian music esconced in "Foxcroft" or "Baighly Heights". Not unlike how you described Joni Mitchell:

"Then can I walk beside you?" she wrote, but the fact is, she didn't want to be anywhere near these people.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Did I take a big lurch right? More likely one of my many wobbles. But looking back at my shifting political positions through the years, I think I can conjecture that I'm a Kennedy Democrat at heart -- somewhere between Jack and Bobby. Liberal to very liberal on social issues, but with an understanding that fiscal responsibility is important; keen for peace when possible, aware that it is not always possible -- and that vigilance makes it more possible.

leeontheroad said...

I suspect you might see me as a relativist Pogo, because it's not important to me whether my Western culture is superior to another, but Western culture is mine and I think most aspects it are quite fine. (That's useful, too, since I can't really cease to be formed by it, as that already happened.)

However, your leap into a connection between one's view of cultural superiority and one's view of the Constitution is just basically silly. I, anyway, do not think the Constitution is anything like a suicide pact (while I do think sittign around bemoaning one's (privbileed) helplessness is). We might disagree about what defense of the Cosntitution is, though-- even if we could agree on some number of principles about what that would be. (Still, if came down to-- one hopes not, but let's be clear about the end game-- standing shoulder to shoulder with you or with anyone like an Islamic militant (or Islamofascist, as some like to call 'em), I'll stand with you. *And* yet disagree that merely listening to Indonesian music would mean your neighbors wouldn't, also.

I prefer Mozart and John Coltrane to any Wagner or rap/hip hop, if it matters.

Tamar said...

And this is why I am against "purism." RLC calls it one of his many "wobbles" rather than "lurching right." When a person questions one side or the other they tend to be "camped" to the one other side of the other! It's comparable to I am suspect as not being a patriot if I question my country's actions.

I love the term "wobbles." I might have to use it in the future as in: "I am wobbling right out of purism and into complexity."

Ann Althouse said...

Richard: I'm mostly (and enigmatically) talking to the people who think I'm right wing! I'm just saying that what you're doing is right wing enough for right wing people to see you as on their side... and for left wing people to spurn you -- as they already have. You just described how they have!

b.sikes said...

ann, being labeled as 'right-wing' by the barking moonbat population seems to bother you deeply. why?

Ann Althouse said...

b.sikes: for the same reason that I don't use the expression "barking moonbat": I want debate among reasonable people who can speak to each other.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Ann, I salute you for trying to establish that kind of forum. And that Mailer guy better watch out.

b.sikes said...

ann: distraction by my pejorative label aside, in multiple instances over the past months, you seem personally bothered a great deal by the label. you gave the proforma 'professional' answer. fine. my 'why?' question was about your personal angst?

unless it is indeed true that madison is a (classic) liberal cocoon and you have been extremely well insulated, i fail to see how you could have been overly surprised by the extreme & consequential distaste of leftists toward liberals.

plus, apologies for the gratuitious characterisation of the modern left. i hit 'publish' instead of 'preview' where i was going to edit. sorry.

Ann Althouse said...

b.sikes: I'm not deeply troubled by it personally -- even considering what a social liability it is here in Madison. I just don't like polarized politics, also I don't like something so inaccurate -- it tends to then make people think I have other opinions that I don't have.

b.sikes said...

perhaps then you might consider penning your vade mecum,: 'on the joys journeys and joustings of being a closely cloistred classic liberal in a pecularily polarised poisoned political penumbra (while occasionally eating fish eggs and spuds with people who tolerate me nonetheless)'?

leeontheroad said...

maybe because it'd be damned difficult to be-- simultaneously-- in a polarised place and poised in a penumbra. All alliteration aside.

Just guessing. . .

KCFleming said...

Re: "...because it's not important to me whether my Western culture is superior to another, but Western culture is mine and I think most aspects it are quite fine."

I find this stance puzzling, given your later admirable resolve to combat islamofascism. If Western Civilization is no better than that under say, the Taliban, why defend it at all? Why not capitulate, and serve in dhimmitude like they want?

I argue that you must see some superior value, or you would not defend it. I hope your defense thereof is not merely predicated on it being "yours". It is unlikely that such a basis would be successful in bolstering you for a fight for survival.

leeontheroad said...

Pogo asked:

"If Western Civilization is no better than that under say, the Taliban, why defend it at all?"

Quite so. I can and will say withotu equivocation that I am freer, happier, healthier, wealthier (in many ways) and better able to listen to John Coltrane here in the US than I would have been under the Taliban, or for that matter, in most cities and towns in Afghanistan at present.

The comparison you imply is concrete and historical. "The superiority of Western culuture" [over everything else] claims an ahistoric superlative with which I am unwilling to agree for a few reasons

1) Intellectual honesty: I don't know enough to make such a general statement (life and art in the Ming Dynasty is said to have been good, but it's not a topic to which I devote thought;
2) Overgeneralizations are specious, both merely showy and subject to demonstrable error. An example of what I mean: the original post mentioned leftist Europeans. They're part of Western culture, surely (where else would you categorize them?), and so are the folks who poured all that -- bought and paid for, just mail it to me!-- French wine down sewer drains;
3) the statement invites irresolvable agument, as we've demonstrated here.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Part of the problem could be a difference in the connotations the same word can have for different people. To one person, "superiority" may only connote competitive advantage or strong personal preference; to another it may connote jingoism, racism, imperalism -- a much nastier picture. I believe that for most people today, the idea of cultural superiority holds the latter connotations. That's why it's a dangerous term to use.