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Conservative Political Commentary

Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Re-reading David Brooks
posted by Bathus

From: Bathus
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2005 10:47 PM
Subject: Re-reading a Piece of Your Work

Dear Mr. Brooks,

Today I happened to re-read one of your pieces that I had taken issue with a few months ago in something I wrote on my blog. This time around, a few lines in your article, The Power of Marriage, really jumped right out at me:
Some conservatives may have latched onto biological determinism . . . as a convenient way to oppose gay marriage. But in fact we are not animals whose lives are bounded by our flesh and by our gender. We're moral creatures with souls . . .
Those words, Mr. Brooks, noble as they aim to be, nevertheless express a fatal ignorance of human nature.

It is the opposite of ironical that you would exalt liberation from the bondage of our fleshy natures as a justification for homosexual acts. If human beings have evolved so far as to be liberated from demands of the flesh, then why isn't homosexual sex, or all sex for that matter, something that can easily be done without? One suspects that those claiming liberation from the flesh wish not so much to be liberated from their fleshy desires, but rather to avoid an accusation that their acts in fulfillment of those desires are proscribed as "unnatural."

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The truth is our lives are "bounded by our flesh and by our gender."

Consider the boundary of our flesh. The "three score and ten" years traditionally allotted has, for a fortunate few in developed countries, been extended somewhat and will no doubt be further extended through the miracles of modern science and technology. Yet no matter how many years we might add to the human life-span, that boundary of our fleshy existence, our mortality, will remain one of the essentially defining facts of our earthly being: We are mortals, contrived of mortal flesh, and by that boundary we are defined in contradistinction to the immortals.

Our mortality is a boundary placed by nature (or, if you prefer, by God) upon our flesh. And if our wonderful science should ever proceed so far that we can escape that boundary here on earth, I am certain that we would be the worse for it--not because life is not sweet, but because in myriad ways death offers meaning to human life, not the least by inspiring us urgently to seek life's meaning and to try to live by it, thereby saving us from an eternal triviality of a perpetual juvenility.

Our fleshy mortality reminds us that the eternal is not (yet) ours and is (still) beyond us. The boundary of our mortal flesh reminds us that the universe is not formed by our desires, that not everything is allowed to us--in other words, that we are not gods.

We should try to keep that in mind.

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Now consider the boundary of gender. This boundary, the boundary of our reproductive nature, is entwined by nature with the boundary of our mortality. For our reproductive nature is both a reminder of and a compensation for the fact of our mortality. The ever-perspicuous duality of the sexes reminds us that, as mortal humans, we are individually incomplete and insufficient beings, autonomously incapable of sustaining or generating life. Precisely because none of us is immortal, we must procreate to continue human life. The sex act is a primal acknowldgment of one's own mortality. Yet by procreating we participate in some measure here on earth in the eternal being that is otherwise denied to our fleshy nature. But in this, too, we are naturally limited by the boundaries of gender: No man will ever give birth. No woman will ever father a child.

But wait! Have I spoken too soon? Our applied science is already making such things commonplace. (A friend of mine likes to joke that no male will submit to giving birth until technology makes it possible to gestate a baby in a gym bag. Her joke isn't quite as funny as it used to be.)

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

We marvelous humans have before broken through and will in times to come break through many of the boundaries nature has seemed to set for us. Some of those boundaries no doubt should be breached, or at least pushed farther away. But some others should not be. It's a tricky business and deserves more thought than you have put into it.

For it manifests an awesome Sophoclean hubris for you to claim that, as moral beings possessed of souls, we need not consider ourselves bounded by mere flesh. More likely the opposite is true. If we are to remain "moral creatures with souls" intact, then we must remain acutely aware of limits designed upon our mortal nature. If we fine creatures "are not . . . bounded by our flesh and gender," the two most conspicuous and enduring constraints that nature has placed upon us, then one must conclude that there is absolutely nothing in nature that should restrain us. And if we are not bounded somehow by our very own human nature, then what could possibly be an external boundary that we, collectively, should respect? Or do you believe the wish of a majority can license anything, without regard to any external rule? Without even human nature as a standard, by what measure shall we discover any boundary for human action? Surely you don't mean to propose God's law as a socially enforceable limit?

You see, Mr. Brooks, it's not about "biological determinism," but about living in accordance with our natural status as limited creatures. To claim that we are "not bounded by our flesh and gender," the intertwined mortal boundaries, is to stake a claim to godhood.

Oedipus, no doubt, did very much love his mother, yet that did not seem to be a sufficient excuse. As unfair as it seems, and I absolutely insist that this is not a theological statement, some things are not allowed to us as humans, which is not to say that we can't succeed in doing many, most, or all of them anyway at some time or another, but rather that in the process we risk becoming something other than human. When we have learned to despise every limit nature has set before us (or, if you prefer, every limit set by God), will we then have become gods ourselves? Or something else?

posted by Bathus | 4/20/2005 08:18:00 PM
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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

There's No Fool Like an Old Fool Who's Trying to Be Cool
posted by Bathus

My faithful blogmate Tom, in an attempt to rouse me from the depths of bloglethargy, emailed me today:
I'll know you're overworked if you don't manage to post something on this at the blog.
Against the grain of my natural indolence, I clicked the link, which opened to this amusing article:
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore on Monday unveiled his new television network, "Current," which aims to attract younger viewers with short videos and a tie-in with the popular Google Inc. search engine.

The network plans to debut on Aug. 1 and be available to 19 million subscription television viewers, Gore said at a news conference at the cable industry's annual convention. Gore led an investment group that last May bought the network from Vivendi Universal for an undisclosed sum.

The channel will show professionally produced segments as well as viewer-produced videos mostly short in length, running from a few seconds to up to 15 minutes.

"We are about empowering this generation of young people in their 20s, the 18-34 population, to engage in a dialogue of democracy and to tell their stories about what's going in their lives in the dominant media of our time," he said.

Viewers will also be able to vote for their favorite videos and get tutorials via the Internet on how to produce their own segments, according to network officials.

"We're starting something new and we're trying to bring about a change in the way the television medium is used," said Gore. "We know it's hard, but we're excited about trying."

. . . .

"We have no intention of being a Democratic channel, a liberal channel, or a TV version of Air America, that's not what we're all about," he said, referring to the liberal radio network.

Gore serves as chairman of the board of that channel.
My dear friend Tom, it is so very kind of you to try to goad me gently off my fat duff. (And since I do appear to have arisen from that most vital organ, let me remind you that it is now your turn to post something.)

But the topic you propose has just barely enticed me to stir from my lethargy. Limo liberals collaborating on a "new" media venture to interest a youthful demographic in political issues was already a worn out concept some twenty years ago when MTV et al. gave us Hands Across America. Inasmuch as Al Gore has promised that Current's founders "have no intention of being a Democratic channel, a liberal channel, or a TV version of Air America," we can safely assume the opposite, which is a guarantee that Current cannot succeed in its stated purpose.

There is nothing in that story to excite me from my happy repose.

On the other hand, the mere mention of Al Gore supplies all the justification I need to republish (for the third time!) the photo affixed to the conclusion of this post. That's my only real reason, Tom, for responding to your feeble incitement. Everything else written hereafter is just a pretext for re-posting that photo, which may be the best damn piece of work I've ever done in my entire life.

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So now, on with the pretext . . .

Regarding Al Gore's yearning to . . . ahem . . . stimulate, er, I mean empower, the young: Given a choice between mindless politics mixed with other forms of mindlessness, and mindlessness exclusively devoted to more closely related subjects (i.e., sex, parties, sex parties, getting a good buzz on, and music you can dirty-dance to), the members of Current's target demographic will always prefer the purer stuff.

Alas, one of the classic condescensions of the liberal mind is the assumption that the young, and every other demographic for that matter, cannot digest political material unless it first is slathered with an age-appropriate condiment, i.e., sex, fast-moving images, and other cool stuff for the youthful, the predictable ethnic seasoning for minorities, etc.

Then again, a sentence like the latest Gorism,
We are about empowering this generation of young people in their 20s, the 18-34 population, to engage in a dialogue of democracy
which is apparently Current's manifesto, illustrates precisely why today's liberals must always employ the mental equivlent of a thick enteric coating to render their excretions marginally palatable for human consumption.

So Al, could you get back to us with a more definitive answer about whether "this generation of young people" includes persons 18 to 34 or is restricted to those in their 20s?

That amusing demographic confusion, while saving Gore's "empowerment" pabulum from being ignored out of hand as typical liberal fatuity, does so only by exposing (once again) the speaker's self-ridiculing vapidity. Whatever noble thought Gore hoped to inspire with his promise to "empower this generation" was dragged straight to the ground by his brief but deadly foray into an impossibly banal demographic question. Would a person who actually cared about "empowering young people" trip himself up on the overly nice question of whether 18 to 20 year olds and post-thirty year olds fit the definition? One could exhaust many hours in Freudian speculations about what kind of concerns must be flitting about in the Gore's strange mind to cause him publicly to exhibit such inapposite confusion. The end of those speculations would inevitably confirm what we already know: Al Gore is an excruciatingly vapid man.

Yet now, with his clumsy appeal to youth, Al Gore's vapidity has acquired a hideously comic quality, like an old lady wearing hotpants. It really is funny if, that is, you can stand to look without gagging.

As the saying goes, there's no fool like an old fool, especially an old fool trying to be cool, most especially when the old fool trying to be cool happens to be Al Gore.

The fact is, to the extent that the young do take a genuine interest in matters political, they prefer theirs without spurious flavorings, coatings, and packagings. The least bright and the most spoiled of the young perhaps will not notice when they are being pandered to with a vengeance, and if they do notice, they might even appreciate it if a little high-sounding political talk lends a more noble character to the indulgence of primal youthful inclinations. But even the dull and the spoiled will grow bored quickly if the political content distracts much from their primary interests. So if Current's programming quickly evolves (and it would be an evolution, not a devolution) to contain amid pure and mindless sex-promotion not more than a hint of the mindless liberal sloganeering so well-illustrated by Gore's fatuity, the new channel might help sell a few six packs of Budweiser or ten packs of Trojans.

Most likely, the enterprise will fail altogether. In the meantime, we have the amusement of watching a spectacle combining a novel form of comedy with an ancient one:

       worn out old fart liberals, like Al Gore and his liberal last-generation internet millionaire buddies, making fools of themselves by throwing away their own money, which would be something new,


       worn out old fart liberals, like Al Gore and his liberal last-generation internet millionaire buddies, making fools of themselves by trying to be cool with the kids, which is something old fart liberals have been doing from time immemorial.

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

Post Script: As promised, and to further empower this generation of young people (whether they be in their 20s or in the 18-34 population), I include herewith the following classic image, slightly photoshopped by yours truly, showing Al Gore engaging in what he seems to think is the "dialogue of democracy."

posted by Bathus | 4/05/2005 09:45:00 PM
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