»  National Review Online

November 2, 2000

   Son of Ten More Things


First, I owe readers of NRO an apology. In my Tuesday column, Ten More Things You Can't Say in America, I was guilty of insensitivity. Many readers found my words hurtful and inappropriate. I am deeply, deeply sorry for my unseemly lapse, and apologize from the bottom of my heart to all those who were offended. In this gorgeous mosaic that is American society, there is of course room for a wide diversity of opinions; but we should shun those that are divisive, or that give pain. I am sorry — truly, truly sorry.

Ha ha ha ha ha! Just kidding! I meant every word, and shall go on saying those things until the Hate Crime Police drag me away for re-education! "Bottom of my heart"? I should have said: "Heart of my bottom"! Ha ha ha ha ha! Who d'ya think I am — Dr. Laura Schlessinger?

There are some points arising from my Tuesday piece though, that I'd like to air: and while it seems a bit narcissistic to write a column about a previous column, I'm going to indulge myself just this once.

I got a lot of e-mail on that piece. Or rather, NRO got a lot of e-mail. Now, this is a bit unfair to the good folk who run the webzine. I mean, practically all the e-mail was for me, not them, and they were put to the trouble of forwarding it to me. Well, they have better things to do. Up till now I have resisted posting my own e-mail address on NRO, just because I get far too much e-mail as it is, and can barely cope. In fairness to the NRO people, though, I think I had better change policy. In future, if you want to respond to something I wrote, please tell me at my email address. Only praise and cogent dissent, please; no lunatics, no gratuitous abuse, no hawkers or peddlers.

Of course, you may actually want to tell NRO something about my piece ("For God's sake get rid of Derbyshire!") In that case, but only in that case, e-mail them at whatever e-address you can find on the NRO website.

OK, the mail bag. The first thing I'd like to say is that NRO readers are a class crowd. If you write for the public prints — I am in my seventeenth year of doing so — one thing you quickly learn is that there are an awful lot of crazy people out there. I mean, crazy — you wouldn't believe some of the stuff journalists get. None of your responses fell into that category, for which I am profoundly grateful. Even the people who thought I was a racist, antisemitic, philistine, homophobic, chauvinist ignoramus managed to say so without implying that I do unspeakable things with my parakeet, or that if I know what's good for me I had better get one of those mirrors on a long handle for checking under my car before I start it.

A good, intelligent and well-mannered crowd, excellent grammar and spelling. That's nice to know. The only thing that saddened me was to see that pop-Freudianism still has a small following. You don't like women in the military? Well then, you must be INSECURE IN YOUR MASCULINITY. You don't approve of male homosexuality? WHAT, EXACTLY, ARE YOU AFRAID OF? And so on. This is dreary and depressing stuff from otherwise intelligent people — as I said, pop-Freudianism. As if the real thing wasn't bogus enough! Fifty years ago, practically everybody disapproved of the two things mentioned above. Were they all insecure and afraid? It is possible for me to have an opinion different from that of The New York Times editorial staff without being mentally ill. No kidding, it really is.

Now to some specifics. My mail was about four to one in favor, if you count "in favor" as including people who approved the piece overall but wanted to nit-pick some particular item. Of the dissenting opinions worth further discussion, I select the following, pretty much at random.

It's unpatriotic to criticize the military.  Al Gore tried this out in one of the debates, but apparently it didn't fly. (When anything does fly, Gore repeats it 100,000 times.) I hold precisely the opposite opinion. If a concerned observer sincerely feels that there is something wrong in the military, I believe it is his patriotic duty to say so out loud. Otherwise, supposing he is right, how would it ever get fixed?

My opinions, if known, will discourage kids from going to college.  Oh, I hope so. The whole credentialism/education racket is a scam run by intellectuals to keep the more useless specimens of their ilk in paid employment — a jobs program for the talentless. Its underlying assumption is that everybody is bookish — that everyone will enjoy, or at least profit from, several hundred hours spent in some college library reading stuff. This is just not true. As a very bookish person myself, I can say with authority that there are actually very few of us. Most people would get much more satisfaction, happiness, and probably money, by learning to do something with their hands, or by interacting with people, or by starting a little business they could take pride in. American society is currently headed in the opposite direction. High school shop is withering and dying. The ideal seems to be a nation of office workers. That would be horrible.

It's antisemitic to point out that Jews are smarter than gentiles.  Gimme a break. Who doesn't know that Jews are smarter than gentiles? Newsweek (8/21/00) gives the Jewish population of the U.S. at two per cent. Does anybody think that the number of Jewish lawyers, college professors, successful businessmen, mathematicians, is two per cent? Anybody? How can it be offensive to say something so dazzlingly obvious? If I were Jewish, I'd be flattered to hear this. For the record, I consider myself a philosemite. It has been truly said (by Paul Johnson in his History of the Jews) that if you take almost anything — science, law, philosophy, literature, medicine, music — and track it back to its roots, you will find Jews there, or at least meet an awful lot of them along the way. I am a big fan of Western Civilization: and I know — again, who doesn't know? — that the debt we gentiles owe to the Jews is colossal, and can never be repaid. No doubt I shall now get e-mails explaining to me that this opinion, too, is "antisemitic." Another thing you learn writing for the public is that anything whatsoever that you say about Jews or Jewishness is "antisemitic" to somebody out there.

Jews are not a race. Anybody can be a Jew.  Technically correct. However, when addressing an American audience, "Jewish" is about 98 per cent synonymous with "Ashkenazi," i.e. Central- and East-European Jewish, or descended therefrom. There are not too many Falashas here, and please don't bring up the late Sammy Davis, Jr. (There are some Sephardim, though. The first place I ever lived in America was at 279 Broome Street in New York City's lower east side. Right opposite was a battered old synagogue serving an elderly congregation of Greek Jews — i.e. Sephardim. I used to watch them gathering outside before Sabbath services. My impression was they had trouble getting a minyan together.) Now, the Ashkenazim are a race. They have lived in fair isolation from the people around them since the early middle ages — "2,000 years" is not a bad approximation. They have distinct genetic markers and weaknesses — Tay-Sachs disease, for instance. Most of them also fall into a fairly limited range of facial types: I can identify a Jewish-American with about 75 per cent accuracy, and I cannot believe I am a prodigy in this respect. (I once, in pre-PC days, had a boss who gave the most feared job interviews on Wall Street. Interviewing a young lady named Karly Robinson, his first question, after taking a good look at her, was: "Rubinstein or Rabinowicz?" She survived the interview, and he hired her.) I bet all this is "antisemitic" to somebody out in reader-land, too.

I am anti-intellectual.  Guilty as charged, though with some qualifications. Look, some of my best friends are intellectuals. Society needs intellectuals. The pertinent questions are: how many does it need, and what is their proper role? I think we have far too many; and I think they should be kept out of politics, where they do great harm. Politics should be populated by sensible, practical, worldly and intelligent people who have not read too many books and have some sympathetic feeling for the lives and tastes of ordinary, non-intellectual people. Large parts of it still are, as a matter of fact — the Republican Party, for example. But the Dems have been taken over by intellectuals, and that is a very bad thing. I would rather have a President who went to the track than one who went to the opera. And I speak as an opera fan. (Up to Turandot, anyway. One of my responders told me that Prokofiev's operas aren't bad. Oh, yeah? I'll sing bits of Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi or Puccini — your choice — and you sing snippets of Prokofiev, and let's see who falls silent first.)

I am sowing (oops, sorry: I mean "spouting") hate.  Oh, hate. Now look: there are degrees of feeling between love and hate. Yes! There really are! Just because I don't love what you do, that doesn't mean I hate it — much less hate you. Really! I may just tolerate your lifestyle: "I don't care for the way you live; but it's your private business, so long as you don't shove it in my face." I may strongly disapprove of it: "What you do is wrong. In my opinion, it harms society. I shall write to my legislators, suggesting they find some way for the state to express public disapproval of it, or make it more difficult for you to do, or ban it." I may mildly disapprove of it: "Don't think about it much; but if you really insist on provoking me to an opinion, well, no, I must say I don't much care for it." I may be perfectly indifferent: "Couldn't care less." I may mildly approve: "Sounds all right, though I don't think I'll be trying it myself." There are half a dozen other points of view I may take about this and that. As a word, "hate" is fast going the way of "racism" — a meaningless term of abuse with no semantic content. Pity; it's a good old word (OED first citation a.d. 825). Destroying the meanings of words is something we are awfully good at in this age.

Enough. Perhaps one day I shall do "Yet Ten More Things …" I agree with Thomas Jefferson, however, that anyone (in his case, even lunatics) who takes the trouble to write to you deserves a response; and because of this I have spent hours answering e-mails. For the sakes of my wife and children, who like me to speak to them once in a while, my next few columns will concentrate on the least controversial topics I can come up with. Flower arranging, perhaps, or the relative merits of various Icelandic soccer teams, or the Lazio-Clinton race …