Sunday, July 27, 2008

Random links

Report from the doom conference.

Wingnut discovers link between Obama and psychedelic theorists Terence and Dennis McKenna. (h/t some commenter on Poor Man).

But it turns out that Western culture is built on those very same sacraments!

Rightwingers really just don't get the concept of humor.

Bad new word: "warfighters". (via)

You can purchase Zimbabwe's hyperinflated currency (current top denomination: 50 billion dollars) on eBay.


Michael said...

"Rightwingers really just don't get the concept of humor." Really?

There appears to be precious little humor on the left, where a dour secular puritanism, marked by censorious political correctness, is always on the look-out for manifestations of its shibboleths - "racism," "sexism," "homophobia," etc. The typical leftist rather resembles a prim school-marm, constantly exasperated because the vast majority of her charges are impervious to her message of what H.L. Mencken called "the uplift."

Those on the right know better. The mass of humanity is un-upliftable. They will go on in their way regardless, and rather than wring our hands and cry about it, we might as well enjoy a horselaugh at their expense. But even more deserving of our derision are the futile efforts of the uplifters to alter basic human nature, which is and always will be dominated by pride, anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, and sloth. Thus comedy is born from the tragic sense of life.

It is not easy to find anything analogous to modern political sympathies in classical authors, since no one really adhered to egalitarianism or collectivism (even grim Sparta had its helots) in those days. Nonetheless it seems to me we find a conservative tendency in the ancient satires against the sophists, ancestors of today's academics. Aristophanes in his "Nephelai" portrays Socrates in a quite different light than does the idolatry of Plato, while the surviving fragments of Varro's "Saturæ Menippeæ" show him to be an advocate and exemplar of the virtues of the old Republic. Juvenal rails against the fashionable vices of early imperial Rome, while Martial simply ridicules them. Neither elevates them to a virtue, as the modern left does today's moral inversion.

Nor do any surviving examples of mediæval or early modern humor. Chaucer, Villon (for all his miscreant behavior), and Shakespeare do not wish to overturn the organic social order, but implicitly accept it. The greatest of Renaissance humorists, François Rabelais, was a menippean satirist of the first water, a great derider of the follies of the learned of his age; Albert Jay Nock has delineated him in masterly style in his "François Rabelais: The Man and His Work" (1929).

What of Samuel Butler, whose "Hudibras" held Cromwell's puritans up to scorn? They, the Prynnes and Sherfields, were the leftists of their age - not the Cavaliers, who loved the settled order, together with their banquets, theatres, and art. How about Swift, the Tory pamphleteer? Johnson, whose wit is so well catalogued by Boswell? Randolph of Roanoke, the sublimest practitioner of parliamentary invective ever to hold forth in the United States Congress? W.S. Gilbert, whose satire on popular government, "The Happy Land," the Liberal government of William Gladstone attempted to suppress, and who never spared æsthetes, suffragettes, and other such apostles of "progress" in his libretti set by Sullivan? Ambrose Bierce, all of whose work is a reproach to the disciples of "uplift"? Mencken, who held "the common man" in contempt, and detested Franklin Roosevelt and all his works? Saki (I recommend his "The Toys of Peace," an early send-up of politically-correct parenting)? Hilaire Belloc? Evelyn Waugh? Tom Wolfe?

A mixed bag, to be sure, but you surely can't call any of them men of the left. And if you don't find them amusing, that is evidence only of your own lack of humor.

mtraven said...

My remark was directed to the present day. I'm not competent to say much about the nature of humor in classical times, still less about what corresponded to our present notions of left and right thousands of years ago.

There appears to be precious little humor on the left...

You are nuts. There is a very long tradition of left-leaning comedy from WWII to the present day. Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Tom Lehrer, Paul Krassner, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Jon Stewart, are some of the names off the top of my head. None of these are ideologs (radical ideology is pretty much incompatible with comedy) but all are firmly on the left side of opinion. The recent efforts of Fox news to create a conservative version of Stewart's show was an unmitigated disaster, almost painful to watch.

Those on the right know better. The mass of humanity is un-upliftable. They will go on in their way regardless, and rather than wring our hands and cry about it, we might as well enjoy a horselaugh at their expense.

The spectacle of the powerful mocking the powerless used to be considered funny, now, not so much. I consider that an improvement.

Bierce was an equal-opportunity cynic who can't really be claimed by the left or right. I haven't read much Mencken but my impression is he started out somewhat similarly. Waugh was very conservative, and very funny, but his comedy was not particularly political. Saki and Belloc I haven't read. And they've all been inactive for the better part of a century, so not really germane.

Tom Wolfe and P. J. O'Rourke are about the best examples of present-day conservative humor, but that's a pretty weak showing compared to the left. In the blogosphere, which is what I was thinking of, there are dozens of wickedly satirical leftish blogs but nothing remotely funny on the right (feel free to include a link if I'm wrong).

Why that is, I can't really say. If the left is the powerful, monolithic, and puritanical institution you seem to think it is, it should be easy pickings for mockery. But a party that is proud of its own stupidity is not likely to be a great source of wit.

Michael said...

I remember one line of Mort Sahl's - "a woman's place is in the stove." How would that sit with today's militant feminist sisters? Al Franken, the "Saturday Night Live" jokester now running for a Senate seat in Minnesota, faces criticism from the politically-correct within his own party as a result of things he wrote and said as a comedian. He will have an opponent for that very reason in that state's rather late DFL primary election. He is now running apologetic television ads. Humorlessness on the left is alive and well.

It seems to me that Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter are best understood as entertainers rather than as serious political commentators. Their function is to throw ridicule at the enemy, and the enemy's screams of outrage at them prove just how effectively they connect with the mark. Of course the enemy is not amused, and is not intended to be - but plenty of conservatives are. In my opinion Limbaugh and Coulter are both a bit hamfisted, but at least they do not rely on obscenity, a staple on the left since the time of Lenny Bruce.

You seem unable to distinguish conservatism from the Republican party and in particular its neo-conservative element. These are not, of course, the only people on the right. I rather like Taki, for example, who is a palæoconservative. See: - some of the other writers there are also entertaining, John Zmirak being one. Andrei Navrozov, who may be found at ther Chronicles magazine site, can be a very amusing writer. British conservatives are generally funnier than American ones - one need only pick up a copy of "The Spectator" or "The Field."

mtraven said...

I see -- I'm supposed to have an appreciation for the rich diversity of conservative thought; carefully parsing the distinctions between neocons, paleocons, theocons, libertarians, etc; while you are free to dismiss the entire left based on the its most humorless members.

It is worth noting that the term "politically correct" originated as a term of self-satire on the left, before conservatives latched onto it.

Nobody with three neurons to rub together would ever mistake Limbaugh and Coulter for serious political commentators, but they are also not very funny, witty, or incisive. It's repetitive, sniggering drivel, and if that's the best the right can serve up then that supports my point.

but at least they do not rely on obscenity, a staple on the left since the time of Lenny Bruce.

Coulter relies on incitement to terrorism and assassination, but at least she doesn't use dirty words, so that's all good then.

Michael said...

I believe the term "politically correct" is a translation of a Russian expression used in Nikita Khruschev's secret speech before the 1956 Communist Party Congress, in which he denounced Stalin for the first time. In the course of this speech, Khruschev expressed his belief in the "politically correct," from which he was attempting to distinguish Stalin.

"Self-satire" on the left? I don't think Khruschev had a satirical bone in his body.

As far as the left's most humorless members are concerned, you certainly qualify amongst that number in my observation. You'll recall that when another blogger made some light of Obama's attempting to commisserate with the rubes in Iowa over the high price of arugula at Whole Foods, you were there doggedly maintaining that arugula was indeed cultivated in Iowa. Maybe so, but I've been in Iowa many times, have seen many corn and soybean fields, but never one planted in arugula. Then when in the same thread I gave the Magic Negro the nickname "Lightning" (based on one of two possible Arabic derivations of his Christian [?] name), you first accused me of being a racist, then turned it into an argument over philology (studiously neglecting to observe that I'd also provided the reading with which you agreed). As Sen., Claghorne used to say, - it's a joke, son!

Coulter "relies on incitement to terrorism and assassination"? You might as well say Gilbert did too:

"...I've got a little list - I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed - who never would be missed..."

or how about:

"Big bombs, small bombs, great guns and little ones,
Put him in a pillory!
Rack him with artillery!"

Lighten up!

mtraven said...

Actually, you are somewhat correct. The original original use of "politically correct" was as a term of art in Soviet Communism, but it was picked up in the 70s by Berkely leftists and used ironically by the less doctrinaire to satirize people who were overly rigid in their idological attachments. Then somehow the right latched onto it, since they apparently lack the creativity to come up with original invective.

As far as the left's most humorless members are concerned, you certainly qualify amongst that number in my observation.

And in my observation, you really don't seem to get around much. But whatever. You don't find me funny, and I don't find Ann Coulter funny. De gustibus non disputandum, etc.

Coulter "relies on incitement to terrorism and assassination"? You might as well say Gilbert did too

Gilbert, as far as I know, did not stand in front of an army of deranged violent morons who are ready to turn sniggery jokes into action. Yeah, I know, it's all in fun when conservatives talk about killing liberals, but you picked an unfortunate week to make that argument.

Mitchell said...

The Obama/McKenna thing is, I believe, actually a jab at accusations from the Obama camp that McCain (and before him, Clinton) imitated his slogans. In other words, it's a joke. But it had me fooled.