I leave you this fine evening with a column by Thomas Sowell.
Tuesday, 9 October 2007
Here is the latest about Alex Rodriguez. Wouldn’t it be cool if A-Rod ended up with the Boston Red Sox next year? Yankee fans who’ve been defending him will have to start attacking him, and Red Sox fans who’ve been attacking him will have to start defending him. One thing we know about A-Rod: He’s a mercenary. It’s all about money. He thought he could get both money and a World Series ring by going to New York. It hasn’t happened.
Here are some differences between conservatives and progressives:
1. Conservatives are backward-looking; progressives are forward-looking.
2. Conservatives prefer common law; progressives prefer statutes.
3. Conservatives like baseball; progressives like soccer.
4. Conservatives are drawn to history; progressives are drawn to sociology.
5. Conservatives value processes; progressives value outcomes.
6. Conservatives are epistemological coherentists; progressives are epistemological foundationalists.
7. Conservatives insist that change be justified; progressives insist that tradition be justified.
8. Conservatives are evaluative pluralists; progressives are evaluative monists.
Feel free to identify other differences.
This essay by Roger Scruton cannot be read, studied, discussed, or circulated often enough. Exemplary paragraphs:
The second argument of Burke’s that impressed me was the subtle defense of tradition, prejudice, and custom, against the enlightened plans of the reformers. This defense engaged, once again, with my study of aesthetics. Already as a schoolboy I had encountered the elaborate defense of artistic and literary tradition given by Eliot and F. R. Leavis. I had been struck by Eliot’s essay entitled “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which tradition is represented as a constantly evolving, yet continuous thing, which is remade with every addition to it, and which adapts the past to the present and the present to the past. This conception, which seemed to make sense of Eliot’s kind of modernism (a modernism that is the polar opposite of that which has prevailed in architecture), also rescued the study of the past, and made my own love of the classics in art, literature, and music into a valid part of my psyche as a modern human being.
Burke’s defense of tradition seemed to translate this very concept into the world of politics, and to make respect for custom, establishment, and settled communal ways, into a political virtue, rather than a sign, as my contemporaries mostly believed, of complacency. And Burke’s provocative defense, in this connection, of “prejudice”—by which he meant the set of beliefs and ideas that arise instinctively in social beings, and which reflect the root experiences of social life—was a revelation of something that until then I had entirely overlooked. Burke brought home to me that our most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable from our own perspective, and that the attempt to justify them will lead merely to their loss. Replacing them with the abstract rational systems of the philosophers, we may think ourselves more rational and better equipped for life in the modern world. But in fact we are less well equipped, and our new beliefs are far less justified, for the very reason that they are justified by ourselves. The real justification for a prejudice is the one which justifies it as a prejudice, rather than as a rational conclusion of an argument. In other words it is a justification that cannot be conducted from our own perspective, but only from outside, as it were, as an anthropologist might justify the customs and rituals of an alien tribe.
An example will illustrate the point: the prejudices surrounding sexual relations. These vary from society to society; but until recently they have had a common feature, which is that people distinguish seemly from unseemly conduct, abhor explicit sexual display, and require modesty in women and chivalry in men in the negotiations that precede sexual union. There are very good anthropological reasons for this, in terms of the long-term stability of sexual relations, and the commitment that is necessary if children are to be inducted into society. But these are not the reasons that motivate the traditional conduct of men and women. This conduct is guided by deep and immovable prejudice, in which outrage, shame, and honor are the ultimate grounds. The sexual liberator has no difficulty in showing that those motives are irrational, in the sense of being founded on no reasoned justification available to the person whose motives they are. And he may propose sexual liberation as a rational alternative, a code of conduct that is rational from the first-person viewpoint, since it derives a complete code of practice from a transparently reasonable aim, which is sexual pleasure.
This substitution of reason for prejudice has indeed occurred. And the result is exactly as Burke would have anticipated. Not merely a breakdown in trust between the sexes, but a faltering in the reproductive process—a failing and enfeebled commitment of parents, not merely to each other, but also to their offspring. At the same time, individual feelings, which were shored up and fulfilled by the traditional prejudices, are left exposed and unprotected by the skeletal structures of rationality. Hence the extraordinary situation in America, where lawsuits have replaced common courtesy, where post-coital accusations of “date-rape” take the place of pre-coital modesty, and where advances made by the unattractive are routinely penalized as “sexual harrassment.” This is an example of what happens, when prejudice is wiped away in the name of reason, without regard for the real social function that prejudice alone can fulfill. And indeed, it was partly by reflecting on the disaster of sexual liberation, and the joyless world that it has produced around us, that I came to see the truth of Burke’s otherwise somewhat paradoxical defense of prejudice.
Read it all.
To the Editor:
David Brooks has gracefully summarized the Burkean conservative temperament, but his analysis is flawed. There is absolutely no connection between Edmund Burke, who wrote at the end of the 18th century, and contemporary American conservatives. Their historic roots go back to the beginning of the 20th century and the passage of legislation protecting children, women, workers and consumers from the dangerous excesses in business practices in the era of the robber baron.
Then Republicans wrapped themselves in the rhetoric of freedom to repel interference with their aggressive profit-seeking. The religious conservatives migrated to the Republican Party much later in the 1960s, when many Americans abandoned strict sexual mores in the name of a different kind of freedom.
Hardly any American then or now would side with Burke in his famous exchange with Thomas Paine. Burke, revealing his deep respect for monarchy, lamented the treatment of Marie Antoinette by the French revolutionaries, to which Paine, in reference to the suffering of the French people, replied, “He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.”
Los Angeles, Oct. 5, 2007
The writer is professor emerita of history at U.C.L.A.
Note from KBJ: I’m glad I didn’t learn history from this woman. She sounds like an ax-grinder. For example, the expression
when many Americans abandoned strict sexual mores in the name of a different kind of freedom
could just as easily have been replaced by
when many Americans became sexually licentious
Feel free to point out other biases.
The legal academy is as politicized as any liberal-arts discipline, if not more so. Many law professors (such as Brian Leiter) view law as politics. They are result-oriented. They view law as a means to the end of social change, not as an autonomous institution. Given this background, it’s heartening to see that not all law professors are progressives. Some of them—gasp!—have respect for law as law. Imagine: a law professor who doesn’t try to reduce law to something else. See here for John Yoo’s op-ed column.
I don’t care one whit for professional basketball or football, but I enjoy watching (and talking about) college basketball and football. Although I grew up in Michigan and attended the University of Michigan-Flint, I have always hated the athletic teams at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. My teams are the Wildcats of the University of Arizona. Which college-football conference, in your opinion, is best? State your criteria (if more than one) and make your case.
I’m a longtime member of the Liberal Arts Curriculum Committee at my university. This afternoon, during a meeting, the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice submitted a new course entitled “Actual Innocence & Wrongful Conviction.” The title disturbed me for two reasons. First, what is a wrongful conviction except a conviction of an innocent person? The course title should have been, simply, “Wrongful Conviction.” Second, even if the word “Innocence” were appropriate (for some reason I can’t discern), what role is played by the word “Actual”? Actual as opposed to what? Hypothetical? When I asked this question, the departmental representative replied that the implied contrast is to perceived or claimed innocence. The course, he said, is about people who Really Are Innocent, not people who are merely perceived to be innocent or who claim to be innocent. I still think the word “Actual” is inappropriate. Another course submitted by the department is entitled “Gangs.” Why not “Actual Gangs,” as opposed to merely perceived gangs or claimed gangs? Come to think of it, why don’t we append “Actual” to all course titles? “Actual Ethics.” “Actual Acting.” “Actual Abnormal Psychology.” “Actual Chemistry.”
How many of you got a flu shot already? How many of you plan to get one? I got a flu shot today at my university’s Health Center for $15. I haven’t had one in decades, maybe since the swine flu in 1976. I came down with the flu in both 2005 and 2007. This past February, I missed two days of class as a result of the flu. These were the first days of class I missed in my 18 years at UTA. I felt crappy for about two days, and afterward I had horrible fever blisters on my lips. I don’t want to go through that again. They say that people 50 years of age and older are most susceptible to getting the flu (and to having complications), so maybe I should get a flu shot every year from now on. It’s just one of the many indignities of aging. (Another is being called “Sir.”)
1. Every baseball fan knows that regular-season success doesn’t translate into postseason success. Some teams perform well during the regular season, only to collapse in the postseason. The Atlanta Braves come to mind. They grind out victories during the six-month season, but when they get to the playoffs, they fail to increase the intensity. This year’s New York Yankees are another example. They played well after the first two months of the season. But during the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, they played as though it were just another weekend series. Even Derek Jeter, who is usually fiery, showed no intensity. Even Roger Clemens, for God’s sake, looked uninspired! What was that all about? Some Yankee players never look inspired. I’ve mentioned Bobby Abreu (“Good Time Bobby,” always with a smile on his face) and Hideki Matsui (who appears to be emotionless). What about Robinson Cano? He showed me nothing. Does he have any fire in his belly? One Yankee who plays with passion is Doug Mientkiewicz. He’s a gamer. It’s clear that he wants very much to win and will do whatever it takes, within the rules, to help his team prevail. Chien-Ming Wang looked like he didn’t give a damn whether his team won. Alex Rodriguez wanted to do well, but one suspects it was for personal reasons (viz., being the star) rather than for the sake of his team. He is the most self-absorbed player I’ve ever seen. Remember: I watched him every day for three years. I’m curious about what Yankee fans think of this. Does your team need to be remade? Do you need a different breed of player? And shouldn’t the man who hired these uninspired players be fired? I refer, of course, to Brian Cashman. It’s Cashman, not manager Joe Torre, who should be fired.
2. Now that the hated Yankees have been eliminated, my goal is to get rid of the Boston Red Sox. Go Indians! I like both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, so I will be saddened to see one of them eliminated. I’m almost certain that I’ll be rooting for the National League team in this year’s World Series, for, while I don’t dislike Cleveland, I don’t like the Indians as much as I like the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The television networks are probably (at this point) rooting for a Diamondbacks/Red Sox World Series. Phoenix is a larger television market than Denver, right?
3. Let’s make a list of players who have fire in their bellies. Here’s mine: Gary Sheffield, David Eckstein, Pudge Rodriguez, Michael Young, Jake Peavy, Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Zambrano, and Miguel Tejada. Feel free to add players to the list, as a comment to this post.
Let me make good my claim that, for a hitter, the most important statistic is batting average. The reason is simple: Batting average reflects one’s ability to hit the ball squarely (i.e., hard). The hardest task in baseball—maybe even in all of sport—is hitting a pitched ball. It’s difficult to control where the ball goes when you hit it (some, such as Rod Carew, are better at it than others), so the best strategy is to hit the ball hard. That increases the likelihood that it will land safely. Over the course of a season, the hitters who hit the ball hardest get on base most often, and getting on base is the ticket to scoring runs, which is how games are won. There are other ways to reach base, as Barry Bonds has shown. During his prime, he reached base on walks as often as many others reached on hits.
Magglio Ordonez of my beloved Detroit Tigers hit .363 this year, which was far and away the best in Major League Baseball. (Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies was second with .340.) This shows that Ordonez hit the ball harder, more often, than anyone else. Yes, he may have gotten some soft hits, but for every soft hit he probably made a hard out (e.g., a line drive at an infielder). As I say, these things wash out over the course of a season.
It’s possible to hit a lot of home runs but have a low batting average, just as it’s possible to have a high batting average but hit few home runs. Adam Dunn of the Cincinnati Reds hit 40 home runs in 2007, but his batting average was a mediocre .264, which is nearly 100 points lower than Ordonez’s .363. This shows that he didn’t hit the ball hard very often. When he did, he was more likely to hit the ball over the fence than Ordonez, who hit 28 home runs. Which player was of more benefit to his team? It seems clear that it’s Ordonez. Indeed, he drove in far more runs (139 to Dunn’s 106) with many fewer home runs.