Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The perils of naming yourself

Dear Hannah,

One thing that I realized after reading an extremely Catholic essay by Anthony Esolen was that, in the war over gender pronouns and nearly everything else, it's generally a terrible thing to name yourself.

Monday, October 24, 2016

In praise of Milo Yiannopoulos

Dear Hannah,

I'll have to confess here that I hated Milo at first.  Something about the way he treated fat women.  He seemed cold, and vile, and low; and if you ever had an overweight mom or sister or even just a friend he made his jokes sting personally.  Not that I side with the people against "fat shaming."  In the end they aren't against shame but against health, and beauty, and good taste; and I think they deserve every bit of what they get.  But a fat person is just fat.  Not a crusader for evil but an underachiever in goodness.  They fail in a bikini but usually make up for it with a personality. 

This needs to be said just because it's controversial to say; and the truth is men like Milo come across as extremists because we are the extremists.  We can't even say fat is ugly anymore, even though almost all of us think it.  We came up with a rule and the rule said "everyone should feel good about the way he looks."  Milo went the opposite direction.  He looks terrible because he says we look terrible.  Fat people don't get laid and they die early but we feel good about ourselves -- for lying. 
 
So here comes the big question: why is Milo horrible if he's honest?  And why are we afraid of being associated with him?  When we take a deeper glance at ourselves, we begin to realize that the "horrible" bully like Milo, trashing gingers and Muslims and overeaters, is really more like us than we wanted to admit.  And if we were any other way, we wouldn't have survived long enough to be here in the first place.

We like to think of the two sides of ourselves as the angel and the devil on our shoulders, but the truth is that both sides are the angel.  What we refer to as the devil was never an evil force rebelling against our saintly side, but the side of us that judges things as they appear so that we can do what we need to survive.  And the other side of us, more commonly referred to as the angel, isn't actually an angel, but a herd instinct; the thing that knows we need people to survive, and asks us what we have to do to survive around people.  The former says fat and fit and ugly and gorgeous and brilliant and stupid and stylish and tasteless, and the latter says if you say fat or ugly you might lose some good friends.  Without our "bad" side we could never pursue our happiness.  We need it to avoid terrible people and terrible things.  Without our "good" side, we'd never know what we have to hide or sacrifice so that we can pursue it in a group.

It's almost needless to say that society has a difficult time balancing the two forces within us, and that the complex arrangements we make for ourselves, and the innumerable webs of do's and don'ts we know as our culture, may oftentimes run too far one way or another**.  And it's the job of our intellectuals and social critics, above all, to let us know whether we've let one part of ourselves run too far over the other.  Too much toward the herd instinct, and we end up killing ourselves in an attempt to fit in.  Too much toward the side of inner judgment, and we end up poisoned by our wives and beaten up by coworkers.

Milo's place in the world is with the side of our inner judgment.  For dozens of years we've swung further and further toward our herd instinct, until the things we thought were sociable were not only suffocating but dangerous.  And in this respect he serves as a liberator; as the voice that everyone needs to assert their self-worth and their taste, and a refuge against the endless tide of things we said would be nice to a few, and were actually cruel to the most.  Milo isn't a saint, and thank God he never intended to be.  But he's a savior all the same, putting himself on a cross when the rest of us were stuck in our "sociability."   He's taking our beating when we should have been manly enough to take it ourselves. That's why I side with him.

What we can also appreciate about Milo is that he's actually interesting.  He's handsome.  He's brave.  He's funny.  He's stylish and original and dangerous.  And if you read someone modern like Mises or Hayek you might end up thinking they're brilliant (I dare anyone to read Human Action or The Use of Knowledge in Society and not feel like he's taken the red pill), you'll never quite feel like they were fun.  Hayek is on your bookshelf like medicine is in your cupboard.  Following Milo on Facebook is much more like taking drugs.

The majority of aging conservatives will never understand this.  Simply put, they're dying, and the remaining carcass of their movement, whose only trajectory as of late has been downward, has already long ago died before them.  The National Review is no longer run by Buckley; and its pages, despite being informative like many other modern works of conservatism, are boring, and sexless, and uninspired.  Milo will cover himself in pigs' blood like Marilyn Manson to get your attention.  He'll say ugly things to get you to think about beautiful things.  And although at the end of the day he reminds us that our judgement needs judgment to judge it, and that even truth requires some tact, he reminds us of a day when conservatives were known as liberals, and all the artists, all the rebels, all the people who terrified parents and started revolutions were talking about things like freedom of speech and unalienable rights, and turned the world over in search of their liberty.

I can't endorse everything Milo says or the way that he says it.  But I'm glad that he's saying it.  And if I'm not willing to say he's a sage or a saint or a scholar or even a great writer, he represents something much different from these and yet equally vital.  He represents the will to live freely and loudly and proudly in the face of oppression.  His shamelessness may be too shameless.  But in an age when respectable men are cowering beneath the shadow of the ugly and tyrannical SJW, what we need are not always polite and political men.  Sometimes, like even the Puritans rallied around the rascally Monmouth, and the Protestants rallied around anyone as uncouth and ugly as Luther, what you actually need is more of a bastard.

Your father,
-J

*Your mother and I were not only obese when we were teenagers, with my weight peaking somewhere around 280lbs, but were heavily influenced by what's commonly known as awkward teenager or ugly duckling syndrome.   Because of the teasing we got, we ended up fighting to be liked; and because we both fought to be liked, both of us ended up likeable.  To be cool or especially good-looking in your childhood is a disability -- especially for women.  To be laughed at by strangers while you're running at the pool may leave you with a complex -- and the complex may lead you into a lifetime of fitness.  

**As one example of cultural development, Persian boys in the days of Cyrus the Great were taught to ride a horse, shoot a bow, and tell the truth.  If he wants to get ahead, a modern American teenager is trained to drive a car, brush his teeth and lie to your face.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The American Dream and its critics

Dear Hannah,

Because I was in college I've done several things I wouldn't do now, at the top of the list being a beer bong with more than seven types of hard liquor, voting as a Democrat, and reading Michael Moore.  The latter of these took place after I quit railing cocaine and picked up some Chomsky, and involved a too-long book about something like Oprah Winfrey becoming president.  It was titled Dude, Where's My Country? because it was written for idiots.  One of the chapters stuck with me more than the one about Oprah, however, and it had to do with the fraudulence of the American Dream.