October 19th, 2005

aging gracelessly

Prejudices, Vol. 1

* When we talk about the possibility of teaching intelligent design in school as an alternative to teaching evolution, keep in mind that it comes to us from the same people who brought the world concepts like demonology, astrology, alchemy, geocentrism, the flat earth, and men having one fewer rib than women. Based on their track record, I think we can safely ignore them.

* People who make a living bitching about political correctness and multiculturalism like to point out that every great social, scientific, cultural, artistic and economic achievement has sprung from the minds of white Europeans. (They prove this by presenting highly selective lists of such acheivements.) Rarely do they point out that white Europeans also produced Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Milosevic, Napoleon, and the Borgias, the Crusades, the Inquisition and the atomic bomb.

* Lacking (as they do) any sort of tangible, testable evidence, the innumerable attempts to establish someone else as the author of Shakespeare's plays should be understood as pure snobbery. Most such theorists are academics, and cannot possibly conceive of such great literature being produced by someone without a sufficient level of higher education -- this despite the clear evidence of their own lives, which result not in the authorship of brilliant plays but bitchy, half-smart theorizing about who's responsible for the brilliant plays. And despite a fairly dismal record of great literature penned by members of the aristocracy, at least half of these gentry-lickers insist that the person who wrote the plays must have been some kind of nobility. It's classist, academicist nonsense that adds nothing to the corpus of literary criticism.
now let me tell you what *i* think

Call me Short-of-Education, Long-of-Wind

Combining two of the threads in my last post, let’s look at how people defend this conclusion that only Europeans have produced great accomplishments.

With the really hardcore types, the Heritage Foundation bottom-feeders, the Free Republic types, and the Ayn Rand Institute dimwits, they usually say it’s ‘self-evident’, which is what people always say when they don’t feel like defending their argument with evidence. Just look at all the great artists, scientists, and thinkers of European ancestry, they say: it’s perfectly obvious that there are more of these than there are non-Europeans of the same level of accomplishment. Critics of multiculturalism who wish to seem more intelligent or tolerant usually take a faux-humble approach, admitting that sure, there’s been great men from almost every culture, but they ‘can’t help but notice’ how many of them came from Europe or the US as compared to everywhere else.

So how does this happen, exactly?

Well, let’s start by comparing two great playwrights: England’s William Shakespeare, and China’s Xi Zhiyang. Is Shakespeare better than Zhiyang? Of course he is, because I just made Zhiyang up. Do you know why? Because I don’t know any great Chinese playwrights. Does this mean there aren’t any? Nope It means I’ve never encountered any in the course of my education (either higher or self-; interestingly, despite the fact that conservatives love to claim that our universities are swarming with PC thugs who have driven the traditional canon to ground, I came out of two years of studying literature and philosophy in college with a head full of almost exclusively dead white males). If I were, say, Chinese, this would almost certainly not be the case. But due to several centuries of European hegemony throughout the globe – which, it is helpful to remember, was the result of the application of brute force, not any kind of cultural superiority – the western cultural paradigm was imposed everywhere. This means that it’s considered perfectly appropriate for the University of Bejing’s literature department to devote a big chunk of their resources to teaching Shakespeare, whereas at Harvard University, the study of a non-imaginary equivalent of Xi Zhiyang is considered an academic fringe activity, the province of a tiny number of incredibly obscure experts. It is the height of absurdity for an American cultural pundit, who hasn’t read any Chinese playwrights, doesn’t know how to speak Chinese, and more than likely doesn’t know very much about Shakespeare to claim that western art is, de facto and de jure, superior to other forms of art.

The scientific argument seems more airtight – because, hey, look at all the neat gadgets and inventions the west came up with! It’s self-evident! -- but the closer you look, the more rife with built-in excuses and qualifications it becomes. It’s started to completely fall apart in recent years, what with Indian mathematicians winning shitloads of Nobel Prizes, the Chinese sending people into space, and every other computer job being staffed by someone from the Middle East, but that’s answered by the claim that it was the West that got us there. When it’s pointed out that it was the Japanese who took American technology after WWII and made it better, cheaper and faster, someone dismisses it as mere copying, as if the man who designed the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost is but a monkey-see compared to the caveman who discovered the wheel. Meanwhile, when it’s pointed out that the Arabs developed algebra or the Chinese invented gunpowder, they’re derided for not doing anything with them, and that the real credit goes to westerners who used them to greater effect. Not only is this the exact opposite of the previous argument, but it privileges practicality in a curiously inconsistent manner. The golden age of science and medicine that the Arab world experienced during Europe’s Dark Age is generally dismissed because the Arabs borrowed widely from others – as if western scientists never did the same, as if the Arabs weren’t largely borrowing from Africans, Asians and other Arabs rather than westerners. And it’s not even considered worth talking about that Europe financed much of their scientific and technological progress through the exploitation of resources, money and labor of the non-European world.

Even the philosophical/political argument is pretty weak. Even leaving aside the notion that we can’t really claim that westerners invented democracy and individualism, merely that they put it into practice sooner – so what? Naturally, I think democracy and consent are better than autocracy and compulsion, but the persistence of the latter in the Eastern and Western worlds seem to argue otherwise. Besides, democracy tends to triumph only in conjunction with force of arms; the defeat of Nazism didn’t come because the Germans were so sick of fascist rule, it came because we blew them up with bombs. I’m willing to argue ‘til I’m blue in the face that representative democracy and individual rights are superior to any other form of social governance, but I’m not willing to argue, contrary to thousands of years of historical counter-example, that westerners have some sort of exclusive predilection for them. Had the Chinese had more imperial designs, we’d all be talking about how the east is just naturally more prone to embrace the glorious superiority of collectivism, and had the Allies less money and resources, we’d all be talking about the sad case of Russia and their racial inability to recognize how much better fascism is than communism.

The great mistake of the anti-PC uniculturalist crowd isn’t claiming that democracy is better, or that western science has improved the world, or that Shakespeare was a great writer. Their great mistake is failing to recognize why they are able to make those claims.
naked and ashamed

Ashton Kutcher: The gift that keeps on giving

I'm a bad person and I'm going to hell, but...

Ashton's Art Imitates Life

Ashton Kutcher's latest project is a lot like life--his own, that is.

The Punk'd purveyor is producing a sitcom pilot for Fox titled
30 Year Old Grandpa about a younger man who marries an older woman and becomes the stepfather to her children, who are close to his own age.

Kutcher, 27, obviously has some firsthand experience with the subject matter. Last month, the
That '70s Show star wed erstwhile Brat Packer Demi Moore, 42, and assumed the role of stepfather to Rumer, 17, Scout, 14, and Tallulah, 11 -- Moore's children from her marriage to Bruce Willis.

Okay, I think we can all agree that this will be the greatest sitcom in the history of television, but surely we can come up with a better title than 30 Year Old Grandpa. Let's try!

No One Told Me About Hot Flashes
Yes, MOM
Changing Rumer
My So-Called Wife
Wearin' Off the Novelty!
The Short End of the Double Standard
Generation Gap'd
How I Tried Very Hard Not to Fuck My Step-daughter
What Bruce Knows That I Don't
We'll Take the Senior Discount