Saturday Afternoon Potpourri: Ticking Clock Edition

The Spawn moves to Terpville this week. She begins classes late in August, but has an interview for an assistantship at the end of this week. Landing it would make a very big difference in her grad school experience (and in its cost as well), so if you’re of a prayerful persuasion, seeking some intercession on her behalf (perhaps from St. Jerome, patron of librarians and archivists) would be welcome.

***

I’ll be chauffeuring the Spawnmobile for this trip, bearing the kid and whatever supplies we can wedge in. Mrs. M (who has in-service training early in the week) will catch up a day or two later, bearing additional stuff. Meanwhile…

Well, meanwhile. The three of us in Clan Mondo have been rather a tight group over the years. Part of this is the result of the Big Noise and its accompanying refining fires, and part of it, I think is from the fact that both sides of the family come from rural, working-class-to-poor, backgrounds — backgrounds that tend to foster tribalism (although I grew up in the burbs, I’m really only about a generation removed from Middle Tennessee dirt farmers). And then there’s the fact that we like each other.

But while we do like each other, this sort of thing is what we’ve raised (or reared, if you’re persnickety — I remember my paternal grandmother saying that one rears children and raises cattle. Of course, she also drank a lot of cough syrup; we all have our strengths and weaknesses.) the Spawn to do. So we’re confident that she’s going to do well in her new habitat. But it’s still a big step for all of us, regardless of the brave faces we select, so while we wish the Spawn well, some good thoughts for Mrs. M and I would be good as well.

***

I’ve done a bit of reading this week — some for entertainment, some for edification. Taking these in reverse order, I read The Smallest Minority, Kevin D. Williamson’s new book on “Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics”, as the subtitle tells us. Williamson’s book is welcome stuff to folks like me, who have fled the current bimodal political scene. In particular, it’s aimed not so much at the middle-of-the-road types as it is at those of us who think that both Team Blue and Team Red are repugnant, and that it’s ridiculous for people to try to demand that we choose between (in Williamson’s words) “the salted or the unsalted shit sandwiches.”

What we have these days seems to be what KDW calls ochlocracy, a $20 word meaning “mob rule”, and the end point of populisms left and right. Williamson argues for classical liberalism, and like John Stuart Mill observed when he helped get classical liberalism rolling, that means respecting and tolerating the individual, even if you don’t much like him or her. (Indeed, the book’s title is lifted from Ayn Rand — because, Williamson says, “She doesn’t deserve to have it.”) He goes on to note that corporations have become arms of the ochlocrats as well, as people seek the safety of fitting in by deriving identity from workplace status. But when someone surrenders his or her identity to the mob, they will reserve particular hatred for folks who refuse to fall into line. Those bastards have to be smashed, and the act of smashing empowers the members of the mob, giving them a sense of accomplishment: “Yes, I’m just another fingernail paring of the body politic, but we showed that sumbitch what he can’t make jokes about.”

Now, we may say we only do that smashing in extreme cases — Charlottesville Nazis and the like. But as Williamson observes, once we get the taste for that sort of thing, we can start defining extremity down. Given sufficient time, any oddball can be a menace, and so off we go to pre-emptive smashing of folks who might be provocative at some point.

Meanwhile, the sacred cows Williamson vivisects include the notion of democracy as an end, rather than a means, particularly when it leads to the sort of repressive tolerance argued (in different forms) by Herbert Marcuse and Karl Popper. To wit:

The implicit proposal that human beings have more value in corporation, that masses grow more valuable and more legitimate the larger they are and the more demanding they grow, and that the individual must always in the end be answerable to the collective, is pure barbarism—it is might-makes-right thinking metathesized from authoritarian political principle to authoritarian cult. It is a virtual guarantee of social and cultural stagnation, ugliness, stupidity, repression, bigotry, illiberalism, narrow-mindedness—and, inevitably, violence. That kind of democracy is the cult of the modern primitive, whose object of veneration is the modern primitive himself.

These days, that modern primitivism (limned in part in Idiocracy, for example) takes the form of argument via meme (as strong an indication as any that we live in a post-literate society) and social media mobs, which Williamson describes as reducing its participants to monkeys who

[…]jerk off and fling poo all day, generally using the same hand for both, and they don’t do a hell of a lot else, unless there’s McDonald’s. All day: jerk off, fling poo, jerk off, fling poo, jerk, fling, jerk, fling.

Twitter, basically.

In this respect, Mr. Williamson (who has experienced the wrath of the monkeys in the past — he alludes to it in the book, even devoting an entire chapter to the episode) is in the company of folks like Heinlein, Mencken, Anatole France, and H.D. Thoreau, not to mention Devo.

I don’t agree with everything in the book (nor, I suppose, would Williamson want me to — the point here is that one should think for himself); for example, Williamson takes a Blakean view of Milton’s Satan (that Milton was “of the devil’s party without knowing it”), whereas I would contend (along with C.S. Lewis) that Milton knew exactly what he was doing, and was showing the reader how seductive it can be to rebel against God. But on the big idea — that vox populi is a long damn way from vox dei — I agree that the best course of action is to declare, “Non serviam” to the idolators of 21st-C. instant culture.

Williamson’s style is also worthy of some discussion. He is one of the most erudite writers on the scene, and sent me scrambling to the dictionary a few times, which doesn’t happen a lot. He’s also perfectly happy to quote Greek and Latin passages in the original. But he’s also wildly and wonderfully eclectic, footnoting sources ranging from The Annual Review of Sociology to punk band Bad Religion in the service of his arguments. He’s able to leap from a Ciceronian high style to rank vulgarity with whiplashing celerity. It’s pretty gonzo stuff, but it’s also smart and entertaining.

My principal complaint with the book is directed less at KDW than at his publishers. Apparently, the folks at Regnery have decided that proofing and copy editing are dispensable. There are numerous errors, ranging from spelling glitches to what I suspect are autocorrected word changes, and they mar the effectiveness of the work. I hope this will be corrected by the next printing.

But as I told a dear friend earlier in the week, if you are interested in understanding those of us who have rejected the current political agon, you could do a hell of a lot worse than read The Smallest Minority.

***

Another book I read this week was Fredric Brown’s first novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947, winning the Best First Novel Edgar in ’48). It’s one of the books on Mr. Block’s syllabus for this fall, and I hadn’t read it before, so there we go.

The book follows the adventures of Ed Hunter, an 18-year-old apprentice pressman/typesetter in Chicago, and his uncle Ambrose, a carnival worker, as they try to solve the murder of Ed’s father. The book incorporates aspects of the amateur sleuth and the hard-boiled novel, and (as Block notes) even sneaks aspects of Hamlet into the work. But the part that struck me the most was that Fabulous Clipjoint is also something of a bildungsroman, as we see Ambrose opening Ed’s eyes to other ways of understanding the world and its possibilities. It’s the dynamic between Ed and his new father figure Ambrose that makes the book really work for me, and it apparently worked for a lot of other folks as well — Brown wrote another half-dozen books about the pair.

My current reading (started last night) is the first Ellery Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery (1929). It looks like a fine example of the puzzle whodunit — of course, that was a major selling point for the Queen books, with the authors eventually informing the reader that all the clues had been revealed, and that the reader should be able to solve the case as well as Queen himself. That’s not really my bag, so this may be a bit of a slog for me, but I’ll see how I do.

***

And I should probably get back to that book, so I’ll go ahead and wrap it up at this point. But why not have some music? Virtually nothing is known about The Hustler’s [sic], though we suspect that the group hailed from somewhere in Illinois, as the track was cut in Chicago. But this is a nifty, moody little number, and worth your attention. From approximately 1967, here’s “The Sky Is Black.”

See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Family, Politics, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

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