Why Are So Many Americans Cancelling Their Subscriptions To "The London Review of Books"?
February 15, 2002 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Why Are So Many Americans Cancelling Their Subscriptions To "The London Review of Books"? This letter from Paul Genova rings true - and touché - to this European at least. Ever since the very respectable LRB published its issue on the September 11 attacks, American readers(and some notable contributors) have been writing in droves to cancel their subscriptions and connections to the journal. Mary Beard's article(op.cit.) aroused most of the fury, though others are arguably just as outrageous. In the pages of this most lively of letter sections - graciously available online - this particular correspondence seems to demonstrate an ever-sharpening divide between American and European intellectuals. Are Paul Genova's and other readers' disgusted reactions justified? Are they specific to the WTC attacks or, more worryingly, representative of a wider separation?
posted by MiguelCardoso (46 comments total)
I don't think there's much of a divide between American and European "intellectuals" -- both (largely) seem to reach for the same ideals (moral relativism and socialism).

A divide between Americans in general and these "intellectuals", however... might just be sharpening. But that's not worrying in any way whatsoever, indeed quite the contrary.
posted by dagny at 8:39 AM on February 15, 2002

There are some excellent points in those letters...

"There are very few people on the planet who devise carnage for the sheer hell of it. They do what they do for a cause; because they are at war. We might not like their cause; but using the word 'terrorism' - as an alibi for thinking what drives it - will get us nowhere in stopping the violence."

Bush's beating the drums with his new "axis of evil" isn't going to help either. It's so much easier to digest if we just believe people are pure evil, instead of understanding the issues involved.
posted by fleener at 8:43 AM on February 15, 2002

You know, fleener, one can understand the issues involved AND believe these people are pure evil.
posted by dagny at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2002

yeah, i'm starting to think the axis of evil is becoming like the new domino theory.

but i mean how can cancelling a subscription not be justifed? it's like exercising your right as a consumer or something.
posted by kliuless at 8:56 AM on February 15, 2002

You know, fleener, one can understand the issues involved AND believe these people are pure evil.

One can, demonstrably, believe in anything. That doesn't make it a reasonable or useful model of reality, however.
posted by rushmc at 9:04 AM on February 15, 2002

A belief in "pure evil" sort of negates any rational debate, though, doesn't it? If they're evil, then we're the champions of good dispatched to destroy them, and any criticism of our actions -- much less the notion that the United States is less than innocent in all of this, perhaps even in some ways complicit in the attacks of September 11 -- will not be tolerated. Can one truly understand the issues involved if one's mind is already made up and one is unwilling to admit he or she is wrong? Anyone who wants to cancel his or her subscription to "The London Review of Books" is perfectly justified; but I worry that this mass exodus comes in part because authors like Mary Beard simply refuse to kowtow to popular opinion of America as defender of democracy against the forces of evil. This is the real world, after all, not an episode of G.I. Joe.
posted by UnReality at 9:06 AM on February 15, 2002

I'm an avid reader of the LRB (and a new member of MeFi), and have been following this for a while.

Remember that this debate started before the initial shock of 9/11 had worn off (especially for me, in NYC). Although I agreed with some things people like Beard had to say, it was hard to take.

By the way, Beard "kowtowing" to U.S. public opinion isn't really an issue in the LRB. It's readers skew way left, so she was probably telling most of them what they already thought. In fact, if I had any particular problem with the LRB 9/11 pieces, it's that they didn't particular challenges anyones pieties, left or right.

But in general, they were a pretty balanced lot.
posted by oddovid at 9:15 AM on February 15, 2002

A belief in "pure evil" sort of negates any rational debate, though, doesn't it?

Why? We can agree that they're evil but disagree on the proper way to defeat them. We can even agree that they're evil but strive to understand the environment that produced them, and America's part in creating that environment. There is room in a complex worldview for the existence of evil, I think.
posted by lbergstr at 9:19 AM on February 15, 2002

I don't think Mary Beard was making a thorough effort to advance the argument that the US had it coming. She was describing that gut feeling, however, and I shared it at the time.

But I am an American, and directly responsible for the government I tolerate. It's one thing for me to hang my head in complex aguish over our position in the world and the prices we may have to pay for it, but another thing entirely to hear "Nyah. It's what you deserve." from some english book critic.

Good neighbors know each other's scandalous secrets but never tread on each others wounds. Given the absence of any focused rhetoric in Beard's article, I don't think there's a great theoretical chasm between the intellectuals here. It's just more evidence that despite the frenzied exchange of blow jobs between Bush and Blair, Americans and Brits have no love for each other.
posted by scarabic at 9:23 AM on February 15, 2002

Mighty interesting. The LRB writers make a lot of interesting points, as well as many I don't agree with. Lots of eloquence and wit.

However, I'm past discussing pure evil, terrorists, bush whacking, and other pertinent things. There is no pure evil, and none of us are perfect. Yes, the foreign policy has been wrong... yes, compromises will have to be made... but, ever read Ender's Game?

When someone threatens your well-being or destroys your environment, you first make sure to hit them so hard they can't hit back, then help them recover if they're not utterly destroyed, then make sure everyone else remembers what you did, and then make policy changes to avoid situations like that in the future. Yes, this is hard and cruel and may be excessive. But it's the only efficient way when you're fighting for your safety.
posted by azazello at 9:35 AM on February 15, 2002

We're using Orson Scott Card as our foreign policy primer now? Jesus wept.
posted by UnReality at 9:43 AM on February 15, 2002

I don't believe it's a new divide that's widening, it's just sort of a cultural difference that's existed since the days of DeTocqueville. A certain amount of egalitarianism is ingrained in Americans from birth, at least in culture(not so often in our politics, I'll admit.)
Now I generalizing a bit, but hear me out. In America a bus driver, say, can strike up a conversation in a bar about politics with say, a stockbroker and it would be considered rude and patronizing for the stockbroker to brush him off or talk down to him.
In Europe, I get the feeling it would be considered a gaffe for the bus driver to strike up the conversation in the first place.("knowing one's place" and all that.)
Now, you could say that Europeans are more realistic about the very real differences between different economic classes and say that American's are merely paying lip service to the idea of an egalitarian society and to a degree you'd be correct.
However, I think the American way makes for a far more interesting national cultural conversation.
posted by jonmc at 9:43 AM on February 15, 2002


have you actually read what I said?

Foreign policy has nothing to do with answering acts of war in my opininon. Foreign policy has as its objective to work out compromises between your and others' interests. Basically to pacify others and to make everyone happy.

An attack like 9/11 is a threat to functional integrity of the country. Just like an individual, when attacked like that, my opinion is that the best option is to fight now and talk later.
posted by azazello at 9:49 AM on February 15, 2002

I'm not sure which bus drivers and stockbrokers you're hanging out with, jonmc. In Blair's Britain and Bush's U.S., most people of any occupation still aren't very political.

Miguel's post pretty directly adresses the issue of cross-Atlantic snobbery between European and American intellectuals, I'm particularly struck by this quote: "There is a certain class of person here in the US who feels more sophisticated when being out-snobbed.... This is a class of person I wish to leave off being."

I do feel that post-9/11, I'm more skeptical of leftist pieties ("military intervention is always wrong"), just as I've always been skeptical of conservative ones ("people who don't support the Patriot Act are traitors"). I'm still a liberal, just not quite as holier-than-thou as I used to be.
posted by oddovid at 10:12 AM on February 15, 2002

jonmc, my appreciation of the 'local' (pub) is somewhat at odds with your generalisation. let me explain;
the local pub seems to exist as an open forum, where anyone can join in any conversation at any time as long as they abide by the house rules. a bit like this community weblog, or a gentelmen's club (although women are allowed in pubs). unfortunately, this kind of pub is not common, as chain pubs dominate the landscape with their flacid interpretation of the 'pub experience', the locally owned local is hard to find.
class segregations are observable in most societies, and as the gap between rich and poor widens, may become more pronounced, rather than less.
posted by asok at 10:31 AM on February 15, 2002

The London Review of Books is simply following the current leftist British intellectual trend of fashionable anti-Americanism. Look at an individual such as Charlotte Raven in the Guardian for even more bitter examples of the breed. I think it has partially to do with jealousy that mighty Brittania isn't the Empire it used to be; or perhaps it assuages guilt over the British Empire's far spottier record of oppressive colonialism. It is also not new, at least in the sense that some of the British far-left have always been able to look evil in the face and continue to spout their relativist propaganda. Orwell documented quite a bit of this self-loathing among merrie old England's intellectual crowd during WWII. Call it leftist masochism. But Beard et al are simply irrelevant: more intent on selling their rags than facing the complexities of the truth. It's amazing to me that some of our brothers and sisters in England, with whom we share much more than we differ, would be so utterly unable to understand the complexity of the American character, where patriotism, intellectual rigor, a desire for justice, compassion and dissent are not mutually exclusive.
posted by evanizer at 10:54 AM on February 15, 2002

asok-perhaps my metaphor was a bit clumsy, I was just trying to point up the notion of America as an egalitarian culture vs. Europe as one more based in notions of social heirarchy, which I believe is relevant to the topic of the thread. Sorry, if I offended you, though.
posted by jonmc at 10:59 AM on February 15, 2002

I doubt that those cancelling their subscriptions to LBR are "intellectuals", for such a term signifies a willingness to consider ideas opposed to one's own viewpoint.

Paul Genova disingenuously asserts "Americans reacted diversely to 11 September and continue to debate". Nonsense. Americans are overwhelmingly and assiduously avoiding any real debate on how we came to this point, unless you consider death threats made against intellectuals who question the party line (like Noam Chomsky) to be "debate". Similarly, Pau Genova runs away from the issues by calling Europeans "snobs", without adding anything substantive to the debate. (Hint to Paul: "snob" is OK but dated..."troll" and/or "evil-doer" is used a lot lately by folks afraid of ideas...wink...)

Paul, like others here in the good ol' United $tates, just don't wanna hear it no more, damn it.

As Steinbeck noted through the character of Doc in Cannery Row, truth in America is hardly a universal love. My experience has been that the most violent, knee-jerk reaction you will get from American humans is when you touch them with a truth. It's that fleeting recognition of painful truth, suppressed instantly by most Americans...that painful truth that on September 11 America harvested a measured of what it had sown elsewhere....a truth that infuriates those who fear any world-view more complex than single entry accounting.

Here's what one "European intellectual" said about his adopted home:

"I have been in America now for seventeen years without having adopted anything of this country's mentality. One has to guard against becoming superficial in thought and feeling; it lies in the air here."

-- Albert Einstein ("Einstein, Ideas and Opinions", The Modern Library, 1954)
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:15 AM on February 15, 2002

Fashionable anti-Americanism

Uh, that pretty well sums it up, doesn't it ? I mean, it isn't like anyone gives a shit about people in other countries, it isn't about the NWO, and global hegemony. It's about fashion. Right.
posted by Mondo at 11:18 AM on February 15, 2002

" ... This wasn't just the feeling that, however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming. That is, of course, what many people openly or privately think. World bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price..."

Gosh. And American readers are unsubscribing? Go figure. Kind wonder what Mary Beard's opinion of a couple of jets blowing up buildings a block from her house would be. I'm sure she'd just see it not as terrorism, but merely as having lost one battle in a "war". And would immediately attempt to arrive at a deep understanding of what they were really meaning to say. Blowing up buildings, you see, is not terrorism, it is simply poor communications skills.
posted by MidasMulligan at 11:24 AM on February 15, 2002

dagny, believing the people are pure evil is an extreme oversimplification of their issues. I would reserve evil to doing harm for pleasure. The "terrorists" are essentially soldiers fighting a war. We don't want to approach the situation that way because then we have to ask why we're at war. Instead, we just label the other side evil. That way we don't have to investigate which of our actions have offended the "evildoers." There are two sides to every issue. That means recognizing the actions we have taken that have harmed or offended the people we are at war with. I don't see the Bush administration doing that. We only cast blame, never admit to any of it.
posted by fleener at 11:25 AM on February 15, 2002

The fact that we do not recognise or sympathize with their goals does not lessen the 'terrorists' perception that they are heroes embroiled in a struggle. George W.'s hyperbolic nomenclature notwithstanding, they are not evil to themselves.

And --despite my quotation marks-- their gooey, pious, self-esteem does not keep them from being terrorists. Evil is not always relative, but this seems a clear case of...um...causal dissonance, perhaps.

But the US has an unusually large pair of blinders with regard to our own behavior. Any hue and cry over our international policies are treated as jealousy, cynical obstructionism, or the feeble, obstreperous rantings of the ignorant and weak.

And --to really jump around all over the place here--the 'cowardly' comment in Beard's column is the same thing that Bill Maher was taken to task for on PI, and Sontag got away with in the New Yorker. And all three were right. Bravery can be stupid, but it can also be independent of intent. Yet, in the US, Col. Paul Tibbets can be regarded as a brave man (since he was on our side,) even though he was in no personal danger when his moment of truth came, and Mohammad Atta cannot because he was a 'cowardly' terrorist.

I happen to admire Col. Tibbets and not admire Atta. Yet I can still be amazed at the plasticity of the definition of 'courage' in our culture.
posted by umberto at 12:15 PM on February 15, 2002

...forgetting to add that I think the US would fare better if we just would admit to doing things for no other reason than to benefit ourselves. I mean, look out for number 1, right? Everyone thinks that anyway. "Damn right we're protecting our interests" seems a legitimate claim to make. And certainly will draw no more excoriation than we are accustomed to...
posted by umberto at 12:19 PM on February 15, 2002

umberto: No, no, no. Every other country does things for the benefit of the global village. It's only us Americans who do things out of self-interest. If we would just join the global cumbaya our European bretheren would embrace us.

And if you believe that, there's this fab-oo bridge in Brooklyn that may interest you.
posted by owillis at 12:30 PM on February 15, 2002

Just as a sanity check....how many Americans are subscribers to the LRB in the first place, and how many have cancelled?

This seems like an awful tempest in a teapot to me.
posted by briank at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2002

I used to subscribe to the NY Review. I've only thumbed through the LRB. But yea, briank, most intellectual spats are exactly that. The Chomsky-Hitchens bout a few months ago was boring, and not at all enlightening. It was just ego, as is this.

Anyway, what was the US’ reaction to years of IRA violence against the UK (and vice versa)? Was it to engage in a dialogue, or to just ignore it as a far-off problem in a far-off land?

dagny: “I don't think there's much of a divide between American and European "intellectuals" -- both (largely) seem to reach for the same ideals (moral relativism and socialism).”

Ha! I could’ve sworn moral relativism was a key facet of being an American conservative “intellectual”. “Abortion is murder! Capital punishment is, uh, not murder!”
posted by raaka at 1:49 PM on February 15, 2002

fold_and_mutilate: " 'I have been in America now for seventeen years without having adopted anything of this country's mentality. One has to guard against becoming superficial in thought and feeling; it lies in the air here.' -- Albert Einstein, 1954"

Seventeen years? You mean 1937-54? Gee, what was going on back in Einstein's profound and thoughtful homeland during that time? I bet poor Einstein wished he could have been back home and experienced all the wonders of that superior culture's mentality during those heady years, instead of being marooned with those superficial, unsophisticated Amurruhcans who don't even know how to make proper coffee.
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2002

Let's look at this practically. For the foreseeable future, leaders will have to nerve their people to fight wars of defense. C.S. Lewis once said:

For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defense. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for "their country" they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilization, or humanity...

The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds -- wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine -- I become insufferable... If our country's cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.

If nationalism is a dirty word, and leaders aren't allowed to invoke a theme of good vs. evil, how can leaders practically lead their people into combat? The subtle nuances of moral relativism as applied to foreign policy are generally going to escape the masses; they certainly don't provide anything that people will be willing to sacrifice or die for.

It's absurd to think that your average Joe is going to take the time to understand the complexities of foreign policy issues and then, after a dispassionate analysis of both the issue and his own country's past mistakes, be willing to fight a war. Society doesn't work that way. Nevertheless, wars must be fought.
posted by gd779 at 4:10 PM on February 15, 2002

briank, quite a few Americans probably read the LRB, mostly academics and highbrow journalists, of course. It's not just a book review magazine published in London, it's a forum for intellectual debates including foreign policy, just as is the New York Review of Books.

The sad thing, though, is that f'n'm is wrong: there most definitely is an intellectual debate going on in this country about how to proceed in the wake of September 11. It just isn't happening in any review of books. Quite simply, the intellectual left has sidelined itself in the current debate by failing to recognize new realities. (I'm not sure I really blame them. There were a lot of thoughtful Americans who believed wholeheartedly in isolation during the world wars. But isolation was simply not recognized as an option to most Americans after Pearl Harbor. The nation committed to war, and voices against the war, for whatever reason, were largely ignored after that point.) Sadly, and the Mary Beards (and fleeners) of the world just don't seem to get this, but the laundry list of leftist complaints against Western capitalism etc. is being unwisely hitched to whatever discernible agenda there may be from some seriously and deliberately inscrutable people who have a vision of an illiberal culture, have no democratic or pluralistic system legitimating themselves, and resort to deliberate targeting of civilians as a means of war.

For myself, it's an appalling abdication of principle. I stand for a liberal society with democratic institutions and freedom of thought and action for all. The ideal sought by Osama bin Laden and his crew seems to be a theocratic state where minority behaviors and minority religions are criminalized. Of course nobody at the LRB would defend these choices for our society, but by defending the methods of war, by defending the objectives, they are legitimating Islamofascism by terror. Never mind that the principle they're ostensibly standing on is self-determination -- intervention is frequently supported in other contexts. No, they don't want us to override the self-determination of theocratic dictators if they believe it's done in the name of capitalism or Western imperialism. It all rolls back to an antipathy toward the power structure in the world. September 11 has exposed this façade.

I can't for the life of me fathom why so-called liberals are choosing such an illiberal course.

I also can't believe that ostensible lefties right here on Metafilter can spout refutable nonsense such as It's so much easier to digest if we just believe people are pure evil, instead of understanding the issues involved. (I hate to skirt Godwin's law, but then there surely must be an Osama Corollary to Godwin by now, and that's surely in play.) Consider a rewording if we just believe Nazis are pure evil instead of understanding the Aryan issues involved. Ah, if I invoke the arbeit macht frei precedent, evil as a label doesn't seem so out of line, does it? Understanding doesn't seem so sensible, does it?

One can say, soberly, that Germany was a society which felt wronged by its treatment in World War One, which had made in many ways a successful recovery, and which proceeded to act in its interests. Surely most Germans believed they were in the right, but today we grant their policy of expansionism to be a violation of the sovereignty and rights of the peoples they conquered, and the West was justified in opposing them on that basis alone. Note that I haven't even mentioned the Blitz or the Holocaust. Perhaps there was a role played by the West in leading to the 1939 German mindset. But beginning with September 1 they passed into the realm of violations of principle, and after that point appeasement was not only unpopular, it would have been sheer folly. Germany perhaps had legitimate grievances, and many in Europe sympathized with their opposition to Bolshevism. But after September 1, they had to be opposed. Liberal democracy among sovereign, allied states was a higher ideal than opposing Bolshevism. Or should we have tried to understand Aryan Nazism? We've seen people invoke the history of Christianity and Islam dating back to the crusades, as baffling Christian aggression against peaceful Muslims (somehow believing that the history of the Middle East began in the 11th century, and was previously untouched by conflict). Should we also try to "understand" the Aryan mind beset by the rising tides of Jewry?

In the same way terrorism is an act of evil, an unacceptable means to an end. Legitimating the end does not mean legitimating the means, but suggesting that al Qaeda's actions on September 11 were done in the name of the whole picnic-basket of leftist causes is claptrap. Of course the terrorists think of themselves as good, non-evil persons. So did the people cleansing Europe of a detested ethnic minority and other "degenerate" classes. You thought apologizing for the anarchists kicking in the windows of a Mickey D's was something? Try the highwire act of apologizing for the mass murder of 3000 people, and then expecting people to think that linking that mass murder to, I dunno, opposition to the WTO is going to get you anything but scorn. No question the LRB walked willingly into this moral quicksand, and nobody has to extend them a plank to get out.
posted by dhartung at 4:41 PM on February 15, 2002

(I hate to skirt Godwin's law, but then there surely must be an Osama Corollary to Godwin by now, and that's surely in play.)

Godwin's law doesn't apply when there's a war on. I checked.

Well, okay, I didn't check. But I think it ought to be an exception, and I keep meaning to email him to ask...
posted by aaron at 5:22 PM on February 15, 2002

dhartung -- your guess that "a lot" of American "academics and highbrow journalists" left me wanting a bit more specific information. You'll pardon me for not accepting your estimate at face value. :-)

The London Review of Books has a circulation of 37, 780. Alas, this is not broken down by geographics on the website, although a read-through of the typical LRB reader does imply a distinctly elite group.

Just for comparison's sake: the New York Times Review of Books has a circulation of 115,000.

The magazine Foreign Policy has a circulation of 100,000.

Time Magazine has a total circulation of 4,062,362.

I hope this lends some perspective on the degree to which this entire thread can be regarded as anything more than yet another strawman for the customary polemics of the MeFi Debating and Pancake Eating Society.
posted by briank at 5:49 PM on February 15, 2002

" ... My experience has been that the most violent, knee-jerk reaction you will get from American humans is when you touch them with a truth. It's that fleeting recognition of painful truth, suppressed instantly by most Americans...that painful truth that on September 11 America harvested a measured of what it had sown elsewhere....a truth that infuriates those who fear any world-view more complex than single entry accounting.

Here's what one "European intellectual" said about his adopted home:

"I have been in America now for seventeen years without having adopted anything of this country's mentality. One has to guard against becoming superficial in thought and feeling; it lies in the air here."

Oddly illustrative. The ability of individuals such as this one to believe they have the "truth", and that it is so fearsome that it produces gut reactions in "Americans" - perhaps this is what Einstein was talking about when he referred to the "superficiality" that permeates the air?
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:38 PM on February 15, 2002

fold&mutilate “Americans are overwhelmingly and assiduously avoiding any real debate on how we came to this point”

dhartung: “the intellectual left has sidelined itself in the current debate by failing to recognize new realities”

briank: “this entire thread can be regarded as anything more than yet another strawman for the customary polemics of the MeFi Debating and Pancake Eating Society”

Wow, briank. Good freaking call.
posted by raaka at 6:59 PM on February 15, 2002

briank: Betcha anything at least a quarter of that circulation is in the US. Figure 1000 university and college libraries, 2000 literature and humanities departments, 2500 people just between 59th and 96th streets on the West Side, another 1000 for black-armband bookstores around West Fourth, and pretty soon you're talking real numbers. I can go get a copy a block and a half from my apartment in the middle of the arid and culture-bereft Midwest. Look at the demographics of The Economist, for example -- in '93 half their circulation was in the US, and only a quarter British. They've since doubled circulation with much of that growth in regions like Asia. Basically, in the Anglophone world, the US is the bigger market -- which is all I'm saying.

All in all, I'd rather be discussing what the LRB publishes than what's in TIME this week.
posted by dhartung at 11:04 PM on February 15, 2002


Odd. My parents and I, who have broadly different political beliefs, have talked over the terrorism etc. and our worries and hopes about a dozen times now. My friends and I have all weighed in on all sides. I've read dozens of debates from every potential fringe, to the middle and back outwards, online. My friend, who teaches history in high school, says he's led discussions over and over, with students questioning everything. There's the recurrent ideological scraping here on MetaFilter. Hell, even the editorial page of my local Hearst-owned newspaper has printed the pacifist argument.

But, I guess because you say so, Americans are not discussing the War and are impervious to debate. I guess your reflexive cliche defeats all evidence.
posted by argybarg at 11:45 PM on February 15, 2002

A hornet buzzes into the child's room and stings him on the nose. The child screams with red rage and pain, and vows to kill every hornet in the world. That night, the child's parents sit in the kitchen with friends and discuss what can be done to prevent hornets from getting into the house. The child hears them talking and stubbornly wonders how they can be so calm and logical - why aren't they out killing hornets? - his nose hurts so awfully much.

Ask me no question,
I'll tell you no lie,
Don't talk while I'm aiming,
All hornets must die!

For me personally, one of the tragedies of September 11 is the extent to which intellectuals in general have failed to distinguish themselves. Where are the deep, informed, critical deconstructions, the steady, sparkling flashes of insight, the transcendent wisdom? I dunno either. Sadly, the main distinction between informed and uninformed commentary has been one of style, not substance. A pop test surprised the intellectual community, and they made Cs on a curve - it will be difficult to ever again convince John Q that 40 IQ points (applied to a liberal art) are worth what they were a few months ago. Thus, the cancellations - there is little point in paying for expertise and insight when neither is adequately demonstrated.

Had intellectuals not become so lazy, so detached, so self-involved, they would never have allowed themselves (and the intellectual process) to become so irrelevant to pop culture in the first place. And maybe pea-brained sound bites like "evil ones" and "axis of evil" would not enjoy the tolerance they so richly don't deserve. We need new wizards. Damn tenure.
posted by Opus Dark at 1:17 AM on February 16, 2002

jonmc - no offence taken, just an observation.
people cancelling subscriptions to an intellectual magazine because they find offence in some part of it remind me of those who cancel their subscriptions to 'private eye' because they find offence in some part of it. (this cover shows the famously satirical magazine dealing with Pincess Diana's untimely death caused a mass-exodus of lilly-livered readers).
in the case of private eye, if there is no part of the magazine that causes one to exclaim in disgust then the edition is a rare one in my opinion.
another way of describing 'offensive' might be 'thought provoking'.
posted by asok at 2:50 AM on February 16, 2002

Or, asok, they're thinking this pile of shite is soooo September 10.
posted by dhartung at 8:30 AM on February 16, 2002

(Score -1: Troll) American intellectual? What's one of those? ;-)

Now that's out of the way, I think Slobodan Milosevic said it best in the UN court this week.. to inaccurately paraphrase.. 'Why is it that America can go all over the world to attack terrorists in their own countries, yet I'm being condemned for attacking terrorists threatening my country from within?'
posted by wackybrit at 12:16 PM on February 16, 2002

Great, wackybrit! Any other quotes from genocidal psychopaths for us?

I think Hitler had a few pearls of wisdom too...
posted by evanizer at 1:16 PM on February 16, 2002

A hornet buzzes into the child's room and stings him on the nose.... the child's parents sit in the kitchen with friends and discuss what can be done.... The child stubbornly wonders ... why aren't they out killing hornets? - his nose hurts so awfully much.

Though I agreed with the rest of your post, Opus, this little illustrative anecdote bothered me. To compare the largest single terrorist attack in history to a hornet's sting is ... pretty disproportionate. And the adults vs. children comparison seems vile. May I rewrite your anecdote?

A family in the business leaders' part of town is murdered. The next day the city is up in arms. The mayor and the police chief say this can only be the work of a gang leader in the ghetto, and vow that they will arrest the gang leadership and bring an increased police presence to the ghetto. In an ivory tower at the university, the professors in threadbare suits, who never liked the rich people anyway, hold a seminar on how the business leaders are responsible for the ghetto, the police should stay out, and the gang leaders speak for the poor people. Because all of the gang leaders wear their "colors" the new city policy is derided as "color profiling", and the town citizens are asked to "understand" the murder gang. When they send out a newsletter to this effect, most of the citizens throw it in the trash.
posted by dhartung at 3:53 PM on February 16, 2002

I really believe this may be a hit that the far left, the intellectual left may not soon recover from. In a split instant, the intellectual left went from being people that many Americans were willing to say "He's a pretty smart fellow, maybe he's got something there," to "That guy's a jackass." The funny part, at least to me, is that the person who sees the acts of Sept 11 for what they were, an atrocity, is far more intellectual than one who attempts to find justifications for it. f'n'm, I don't mean to single you out but your statements simply demonstrate the point. You claim that those who are unsubscribing from LBR can't be intellectuals because an intellectual would consider other viewpoints is dependant on the fact that those viewpoints are worth considering. Perhaps the truth is that the Beard's and Chomsky's of the world are full of shit and their actions and words following Sept. 11 woke up many to that fact.

Personally, I have always viewed the Chomsky's of the world as being like armchair quarterbacks. They sit back, safely in the comfort of academia and watch the events called life that the rest of the world actually lives in. They put forth absurd but eloquent arguments without the bother of actually having to implement them. They sit back oblivious to events only to jump right up the second an issue comes into the spotlight with their analysis of how it could have been prevented, how those in power contributed to it, how unfair it is to those who are impacted by it. The more absurd the argument, the more likely it will be published so they all attempt to outdo each other in leaning to the left. And they do this all from the comfort of academia where they don't have to get bills passed in Congress, where they have to make compromises, where sometimes the choice is not between what's right and what's wrong but between the lessor of two (or more) evils. They don't have to make decisions, only critique others brave enough to put themselves on the line, to be accountable. Hell, they don't even have to be right since nobody would ever actually follow the advice they spew forth in their essays, books, and letters to the editor. No, they get to sit back and call all of the plays after the fact. Perhaps that's why they're called intellectuals. They don't take risks. They aren't stupid enough to run for office and try to change things. They aren't stupid enough to actually do what they say. Maybe that's why on Sept. 11, when America pulled together as a nation and looked for hope, looked for a reason, looked for courage, they finally saw the intellectuals for what they were, self-inflated cowards who don't believe in or stand for anything but their own self-promotion.
posted by billman at 11:19 PM on February 16, 2002

Great, wackybrit! Any other quotes from genocidal psychopaths for us?

I'm sure I could rattle up a few from some US Presidents.
posted by wackybrit at 1:01 AM on February 17, 2002

Um, hold on a sec.

Trying to justify an anti-intellectual coup simply because the current crop appears not to be star-studded is counter-productive and dangerous. Implying that there are no benefits to a rigorous intellectual examination of, well, damn near everything is foolish. And suggesting that theorists and thinkers have no valid credential unless they participate directly in the processes which they undertake to examine is the antithesis of enlightenment.

I am not indicting the intellectual process, nor the intellectual motive - I am merely critical of the current aging cast and crew, who have allowed themselves, through lack of imagination and lack of foresight, to become increasingly irrelevant - almost clownish - in the flawed estimation of a helluva lot of people. Where are the slick, PR savvy activist metaphysicians, the glib, swaggering, provocateurs - the brilliant, sexy, pop cult idols whose withering glances and patronizing tones should have preemptively embarrassed reductionist simplifications right out of the sound bite stream?

The responsibility for the decline of the perceived value of rigorous and multi-faceted examination does not, to be fair, begin and end with professional thinkers, but their lack of enthusiasm for popularizing themselves, their disinclination to involve and tutor and engage the public, are among the factors which have allowed the fallacy of intellectual egalitarianism to swell to ridiculous proportion. The notion that some people, by virtue of genetics, motivation, or both, are wiser than others, is less relevant now than it was before September 11. Instead, talk-radio blather seems to describe (and predict) national policy to such an alarming degree that I suspect there will soon be high school courses in advanced simple-mindedness, disguised as courses in clear thinking.

A national prejudice against complex thought is a reality, and it was disturbingly easy to engineer.

So am I gonna be part of the solution?

Of course not.

The annoying thing about complex thought is that it is complex. Done properly, it becomes exponentially complex. For me, it involves deconstruction to First Cause's first cause, followed by synthesis defined by purpose. IOW, it's hard, it takes a long time, and its proper translation to written word would require more time and effort than I am willing to invest. (And, of course, there is the additional disincentive furnished by a loud crowd of hecklers sitting on the back row (over there, to the right), waiting to use their canned, derisive comments.)

Simply put, I'm not being paid to examine the "war". But the people who are being paid to examine it - its macros and its micros - the best and the brightest people, who should be dazzling us by processing detailed data through advanced reasoning systems which they themselves have devised - are not, at the moment, impressing me.

But then, who cares, really?
posted by Opus Dark at 3:35 AM on February 17, 2002

Opus Dark: I assume some of that was directed at me so I'll respond (if not, call me the ignorant fool that I am). I'm not saying critical thinking is wrong. That taking the time to stop and examine what's happening, why it's happening and how you can (or if you should) modify outcomes. I'm not saying anything like that.

What I am saying is that there are groups of "intellectuals" who:

a) Are so far removed from reality that their views have become more like mental masturbation designed to impress each other in how radically left they can be than critical reasoning.

b) Are publicity whores.

It's not that there's an anti-intellectual coup, rather that the current left-wing blather that has been passed off as the pinnacle of intellectual thought is less appealing to many of those who once held those ideas in high regard and completely disgusting to the masses. It doesn't mean that other intellectuals won't fill that void, only that the current self-loathing, anti-US rhetoric is no longer being bought hook, line and sinker as intellectual thought (funny enough, many of their former followers have taken their advice and opened their minds to ideas other than those being put forth by the far-left).

I almost find it amusing that the same left-wing that used to run conservative intellectuals off of college campuses with threats of physical violence is now screaming that magazine and newspaper subscription cancelations and television rating plunges are censorship. Isn't it funny that massive cancellations from the LRB is being cited as some sort of tragic event as if enlightenment only came through their indoctornation courses. Or that those who claim that one should look at everything with an open mind are the first to dismiss any writer who does not share their world view?

No, I think other intellectuals will fill the void that is sure to be left when the current batch is done writing themselves into obscurity. I am hopeful that the next batch is not right wing, or left wing, but moderate. Able to accept ideas from both sides and articulate new ideas based on facts, not political leanings. People who can juggle conflicting ideals and still publish their work with some sense of academic integrity.

Oh, who am I kidding? That'll never happen.
posted by billman at 5:03 AM on February 17, 2002

A lot of people talk as if the British and Americans are kind of natural enemies - or perhaps that Britain envies a lost empire. But you've got it all wrong. For the most part British people are so saturated with American television and culture, that (while they're happy to be different) there's still a kind of wonder that America exists - it's like fantasyland!

And when you're talking lost empire you're missing a VERY important point, which is that British people as a rule remember a time of empire-building about as effectively as the US remembers being a second-rate power in the world - ie. not at all...

The crux of the whole issue for me is that most citizens of most countries (in fact i would say ALL citizens of ALL countries) don't really know what is done by their leaders in their name. We ALL wish we understood the inter-relations of everything in the world and yet none of us do (or perhaps can).

The security that America felt is not a security that Europe has felt in a VERY long time. And now everyone says that the USs sense of security has gone - but that can't be true!
If it didn't feel secure it wouldn't risk escalations of conflict - it would be building alliances and maintaining alliances - it would be helping to sort out collapsing countries - alleviating third-world debt etc.

Like a lot of people have said - it's more important than ever that we all unite to do the right thing - but there will necessarily be disagreement about what the right-thing is, and at a certain point the rest of the world does have the right to say that the richest 200 million people in the world should have to listen to the views of the other 6.3 billion or so who also have to live in the world with them....
posted by barbelith at 11:02 AM on February 26, 2002

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