Quarterly Potpourri: 2015, Q1
Virtue totalitarianism. For devout Christian bakers, florists, and photographers throughout the U.S.A., the message going out from the news recently has been the one Anouk Aimee received from a helpful stranger she met while crossing the desert in the 1962 movie Sodom and Gomorrah: "Watch out for Sodomite patrols!"
My impression from these recent events has been that the Dictatorship of Virtue is waxing strong, and that none dares to resist them. Where will it end? See how far things have gone in Britain:
The National Union of Teachers has called for a "positive portrayal of same sex relationships" in lessons to be made "compulsory" under the next government.
Next will come the forcible removal of children from "homophobic" parents, to spare their little minds from being corrupted by "bigotry." Couldn't happen here? Who thought, twenty years ago, that homosexual marriage could happen here?
Was her name Kim? British tabloid headlines are a lifetime study. The national obsessions have changed somewhat, though. Back in the 1960s David Frost cooked up the perfect headline, pressing all the buttons of the tabloid-reading British public (royals, pets, deviant clergymen): Sex-Change Vicar in Mercy Dash to Palace Corgis.
Here's one from the Daily Mail the other day. It rates no better than "trying hard," and has a rather obvious grammatical fault, but I'm glad to know the old spirit is still alive: New heartache for Iraq war heroine battling deadly disease after being blown up by a mortar bomb as fiance leaves family home.
What would be the ideal 2015 tabloid headline? I offer: Cop Shoots Gay Black Pastor as Hillary Addresses Campus Rape Crisis Rally.
Feasts, moveable and fixed. Easter, Passover, and the Qing Ming festival all fell on the same weekend this year. I made a brief attempt to work out how often this happens, but the arithmetic defeated me. As math textbooks say: I leave it as an exercise for the reader.
There is a curious symmetry in there. The Christian calendar is solar; yet we have this one major festival, Easter, determined by the Moon. Contrariwise, China's traditional calendar is lunar (like the Jewish calendar); yet they have one major festival determined by the Sun. That's Qing Ming. Chinese New Year wanders about between our January 21st and February 20th, but Qing Ming is always April 4th or 5th.
What do you do on Qing Ming? Sweep the graves of your ancestors, that's what, and burn hell money. Alas, the Derb household's ancestor graves are all far away, but Mrs D went out to the fire pit behind the garage and burned some hell money anyway.
Easy Rider at 46. My lady is still, after 29 years in the U.S.A., filling out her knowledge of the national culture. Old movies, for example: She adds them to our Netflix list based on how many awards or recommendations they got. This gives me a chance to revisit random famous old flicks.
Last week our selection was Easy Rider, which I hadn't seen since 1969. What a period piece! I'd forgotten how obnoxiously daft the 1960s counterculture was. Watching Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper act out their rebellion against bourgeois conformity, I wanted to put on a suit and tie, light up a Chesterfield, and mix myself a martini.
Peter Fonda plays his role practically comatose. This was apparently intended to signify some kind of spiritual depth. Hippie nature-worship is right up front, dramatic mountain, river, and forest landscapes alternated with ugly strip mines and factories. The dialog is inane.
Also up front is the demonisation of Southern white men. They were the enemy: leering, jeering, ugly, violent, and short-haired. To the sensitive, nature-worshipping metropolitan hippies, these were the Other, hated and feared.
I met a few of these Southern good ol' boys in my own travels around the country in the mid-1970s. They seemed amiable enough, friendly and harmless if you minded your manners. The species is well-nigh extinct today; yet still they lurk in the Progressive imagination, the eternal boogie-man of the Left, metastasized nationwide now, disguised as bakers, florists, photographers …
Upstream variables. For the poor ink-stained opinion journalist casting around for a topic, anniversaries are a godsend. The number of opinion pieces whose first paragraph includes the phrase "20 [or 50, or 100] years ago today" is probably finite, but far beyond computing.
Odd, therefore, that opinion journalists weren't all over the fiftieth anniversary of the Moynihan Report last month. The report's title was The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. It got some notice — see George Will here, for example — but not as much as you might have expected.
In the context of race relations this isn't really all that odd. In these fifty years we have passed from hope to despair; and despair is not an emotion you want to dwell on.
The number everyone remembers from the report is the 24 percent of black births being to unmarried women, versus 2 or 3 percent for whites. The numbers in 2011, the latest I can find, were 72 percent and 29 percent (Table 1 here). So yes, things are worse all round, but still way worse for blacks.
Hence the uneasiness. A changing tide lifts, or lowers, all boats; but if this boat rides lower in the water than that boat at any tide level, you have to suspect that there is something different about the boats. Eek! Pick a different topic!
The liberal conventional wisdom prior to Moynihan's report had been that the root cause was poverty, the solution welfare. No, said Moynihan, the problem was culture, the solution was to, uh, change the culture.
Fifty years on, that's still the conventional wisdom, as George Will's commentary makes plain. As Will also makes plain, we have no more idea how to change the culture now than we had in 1965. The suspicion creeps upon us that culture is not a weightless gas or a luminiferous aether; that there are some upstream variables involved in determining culture. Eek!