Jokes about Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown, main character of Peanuts, in a typical situation

For some reason, people have been making lots of jokes recently about the titles of books, television programs, and other media products associated with Peanuts, a daily comic strip that Charles M. Schulz created and drew for decades until his death in 2000.  During Schulz’ lifetime, his characters were featured in televised animation with titles like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown!,” and “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown!”  There was a hit Broadway musical called You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown!, and any number of paperback books collecting the strips.

One of the top hashtags on Twitter at the moment is #RejectedPeanutsSpecials.  One of my favorite tweets under this heading is this from Keith Powell: “We’re concerned about your drinking, Charlie Brown.”  There’s also a website called “Paperback Charlie Brown,” a.k.a. “Something Something Something Charlie Brown,” which shows images of the paperback books that collected the strips, often leaving the cover art unchanged, but altering the title.  So, this original cover ,with its image of Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy as a mid-60s hipster and the phrase “Ha Ha Herman” (a chant the characters in the strip use when they play a modified version of “Hide and Seek,”*) becomes more menacing:

 

*In most forms of “Hide and Seek,” exactly one seeker tries to find one or more hidden people.  In “Ha Ha Herman,” multiple seekers try to find exactly one hidden person.  The hidden person’s title is “Herman,” and the seeker who finds Herman shouts “Ha Ha Herman,” announcing to the other seekers that the game is over.  Schulz apparently invented this game for the characters to play in the strip.

 

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“Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing”

T. H. Huxley in 1860

The title of this post is a quote from Thomas Henry Huxley.  I came across it a few months ago, when I was reading an old paperback I found in a used book store.  The book was Voices from the Sky, by Arthur C. Clarke (Mayflower Press, 1969.)  The cheap, high-acid paper hadn’t aged well in the decades since the book was printed; the pages crumbled in my hands as I read.  All I kept from it is the top half of page 155, a bit from an essay titled “Science and Spirituality.”  On the previous page, Clarke had mentioned the widespread impression that science and religion are irreconcilable.  To which he says:

It is a great tragedy that such an impression has ever arisen, for nothing could be further from the truth.  ‘Truth’ is the key word; for what does science mean except truth?  And of all human activities, the quest for truth is the most noble, the most disinterested, the most spiritual.

It is also the one most likely to inculcate humility.  Said T. H. Huxley a century ago: ‘Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.’

Science has now led, in our generation, to the ultimate abyss- that of space.  Questions to which philosophers and mystics have given conflicting answers for millennia will soon be answered, as our rocket-borne instruments range ever further from Earth.

Several things about these paragraphs arrested my attention.  Clarke usually called himself an atheist, and it was to describe his own opinions that Huxley coined the word “agnostic.”  So it is rather odd to see one of them invoke the other in defense of religious values.  Moreover, it seems a bit naive to assert that space is “the ultimate abyss.”  Ultimate in size space may be, unless of course there are parallel universes, in which case the space in which we live may be only fraction of an infinitely larger abyss.  But for all we know, the mysteries of space may yet pale in significance and complexity next to those of the subatomic world, or of some other field of study.  The final sentence is, if anything, even more naive.  Surely the most interesting thing about science is not its ability to answer familiar questions, but its ability to raise unfamiliar questions.  Philosophers and mystics have not given conflicting answers for millennia to, for example, the question of whether Venus ever had plate tectonics.  Without scientific inquiry, not only would we not have the concept of plate tectonics, we wouldn’t even know that Venus had a surface.  Once scientific inquiry has reached a certain point, our habits of mind and our whole view of nature change in ways too subtle to notice and too numerous to count.  In truth, the essay showed many signs of hasty composition; it was far from Clarke’s best, and I was surprised to see it published in a collection.

I tracked the Huxley quote down.  It comes from a letter Huxley wrote to the Reverend Charles Kingsley on 23 September 1860.  The letter appears on pages 217-221 of Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, edited by Leonard Huxley (London: MacMillan and Company, 1900); the sentence Clarke quotes appears on page 219 of that book.  Kingsley had sent Professor and Mrs Huxley a letter of condolence on the death of their young son, in which he alluded to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.  Huxley’s response is worth reading in full, though I will quote only a few selections.  Kingsley had mentioned various arguments that are supposed to bolster the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.  Huxley’s response makes it clear what these arguments were:

I feel that it is due to you to speak as frankly as you have done to me. An old and worthy friend of mine tried some three or four years ago to bring us together—because, as he said, you were the only man who would do me any good. Your letter leads me to think he was right, though not perhaps in the sense he attached to his own words.

Thus Huxley sets the gracious tone of the letter, and makes it clear that he disagrees with Kingsley.  Next:

To begin with the great doctrine you discuss. I neither deny nor affirm the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing in it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it.

Certainly a classic statement from the first self-described agnostic!

Pray understand that I have no a priori objections to the doctrine. No man who has to deal daily and hourly with nature can trouble himself about a priori difficulties. Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not? It is not half so wonderful as the conservation of force, or the indestructibility of matter. Whoso clearly appreciates all that is implied in the falling of a stone can have no difficulty about any doctrine simply on account of its marvellousness. But the longer I live, the more obvious it is to me that the most sacred act of a man’s life is to say and to feel, “I believe such and such to be true.” All the greatest rewards and all the heaviest penalties of existence cling about that act. The universe is one and the same throughout; and if the condition of my success in unravelling some little difficulty of anatomy or physiology is that I shall rigorously refuse to put faith in that which does not rest on sufficient evidence, I cannot believe that the great mysteries of existence will be laid open to me on other terms. It is no use to talk to me of analogies and probabilities. I know what I mean when I say I believe in the law of the inverse squares, and I will not rest my life and my hopes upon weaker convictions. I dare not if I would.

So does Huxley present himself as a scientist, and as a stout defender of the methods of science.  I am surprised at his statement that “the longer I live, the more obvious it is to me that the most sacred act of a man’s life is to say and feel, ‘I believe such and such to be true.’  All the greatest rewards and all the heaviest penalties of existence cling about that act.”  When Huxley wrote that sentence, he was 35 years old.  I’m older than that now, and the longer I live the more obvious it is to me that to say and to feel “I believe such and such to be true” is usually a waste of time, and quite often the mark of a jackass. Maybe that’s just because I spend a lot of time on the web, or maybe not.

Huxley then sets out to show how a thoroughly scientific mind approaches Kingsley’s views:

Measured by this standard, what becomes of the doctrine of immortality?You rest in your strong conviction of your personal existence, and in the instinct of the persistence of that existence which is so strong in you as in most men.

To me this is as nothing. That my personality is the surest thing I know—may be true. But the attempt to conceive what it is leads me into mere verbal subtleties. I have champed up all that chaff about the ego and the non-ego, about noumena and phenomena, and all the rest of it, too often not to know that in attempting even to think of these questions, the human intellect flounders at once out of its depth.

It must be twenty years since, a boy, I read Hamilton’s essay on the unconditioned, and from that time to this, ontological speculation has been a folly to me. When Mansel took up Hamilton’s argument on the side of orthodoxy (!) I said he reminded me of nothing so much as the man who is sawing off the sign on which he is sitting, in Hogarth’s picture. But this by the way.

I cannot conceive of my personality as a thing apart from the phenomena of my life. When I try to form such a conception I discover that, as Coleridge would have said, I only hypostatise a word, and it alters nothing if, with Fichte, I suppose the universe to be nothing but a manifestation of my personality. I am neither more nor less eternal than I was before.

Nor does the infinite difference between myself and the animals alter the case. I do not know whether the animals persist after they disappear or not. I do not even know whether the infinite difference between us and them may not be compensated by their persistence and my cessation after apparent death, just as the humble bulb of an annual lives, while the glorious flowers it has put forth die away.

Surely it must be plain that an ingenious man could speculate without end on both sides, and find analogies for all his dreams. Nor does it help me to tell me that the aspirations of mankind— that my own highest aspirations even — lead me towards the doctrine of immortality. I doubt the fact, to begin with, but if it be so even, what is this but in grand words asking me to believe a thing because I like it.

Science has taught to me the opposite lesson. She warns me to be careful how I adopt a view which jumps with my pre-conceptions, and to require stronger evidence for such belief than for one to which I was previously hostile.

My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonise with my aspirations.

Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.

This rather resolves the paradox of the atheist Clarke invoking the agnostic Huxley in defense of religion.  Huxley is responding graciously to his friend’s sincere attempt to comfort him in a moment of extreme affliction.  In that endeavor, he assures Kingsley that he seeks to cultivate the same virtues Kingsley hopes his religion will engender, and simultaneously makes it clear that he does not accept Kingsley’s religion.  Clarke was known for a similar combination of friendliness and forthrightness in his dealings with believers, and I surmise that in this letter he may have found a kindred spirit.

Huxley mentions arguments in favor of the immortality of the soul that Kingsley had not made, notably the idea “that such a system is indispensable to practical morality.”  Huxley’s objection to this argument is emotionally powerful and scientifically astute:

As I stood behind the coffin of my little son the other day, with my mind bent on anything but disputation, the officiating minister read, as a part of his duty, the words, “If the dead rise not again, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” I cannot tell you how inexpressibly they shocked me. Paul had neither wife nor child, or he must have known that his alternative involved a blasphemy against all that was best and noblest in human nature. I could have laughed with scorn. What! because I am face to face with irreparable loss, because I have given back to the source from whence it came, the cause of a great happiness, still retaining through all my life the blessings which have sprung and will spring from that cause, I am to renounce my manhood, and, howling, grovel in bestiality? Why, the very apes know better, and if you shoot their young, the poor brutes grieve their grief out and do not immediately seek distraction in a gorge.

The words that shocked Huxley came from I Corinthians chapter 15, verse 32.  Here is the passage Huxley probably heard, taken from the funeral service in the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  It comprises verses 20 through 58 of that chapter:

Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s, at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority, and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? and why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not: for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body, as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh; but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead: It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, (for the trumpet shall sound,) and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality; then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Is Paul suggesting in this passage that those who disbelieve in the immortality of the soul will skip the funerals of their loved ones in order to visit the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet, and thus committing “a blasphemy against all that was best and noblest in human nature”?  I think not.  He does not mention funerals, or the first shock of mourning; he does not deny that it is natural for us, as animals, to grieve out our grief when death has put someone we love forever out of our reach.  He talks about baptism, and martyrdom, and day after day spent under the shadow of persecution.  The reward for all of this trouble is to be found in an immense drama that began with Adam and Eve and that will continue until the end of time, a drama in which everyone, alive and dead has a role to play.  If this drama is not really in production, if our efforts do not really connect us the living with the dead who went before s and their efforts will not connect the living to us after we die, why bother with the whole thing?  Better to embrace laziness and live the easiest possible life than to sustain so demanding an enterprise.  Such laziness might not preclude a period of howling grief fit to impress any ape, though it would set a limit to the ways in which a person is likely to change his or her habits in the aftermath of that period.

Of course, when Huxley heard the passage above he was standing at the open grave into which his young son’s coffin had just been lowered.  It would be unreasonable to think ill of a person subject to such extreme stress for taking a few words out of their context and putting an unwarranted construction on them, especially when the priest speaking them represented a group that was alien to Huxley’s beliefs and hostile to him personally.  I do wonder, though, why it was just that construction that came to Huxley’s mind.  Obviously, I don’t know.  But I think I do know what Irving Babbitt would have thought about it.   Babbitt (1865-1933) was a professor of French and Comparative Literature at Harvard whose works have had a great influence on me.  The poet and critic T. S. Eliot took some classes from Babbitt, and after Babbitt’s death wrote that “To have been once a pupil of Babbitt’s was to remain always in that position”; even for someone like myself, born decades after Babbitt’s death and familiar with him only through his books, Babbitt’s influence is permanent.

Irving Babbitt might have read Paul much as he read the Buddha.  In the course of the denunciation of the elective system then being introduced to American higher education that runs through his book Literature and the American College (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin,1908,)  Babbitt wrote:

A popular philosopher has said that every man is as lazy as he dares to be. If he had said that nine men in ten are as lazy as they dare to be, he would have come near hitting a great truth. Theelective system has often been regarded as a protest against the doctrine of original depravity. This doctrine at best rests on rather metaphysical 1 foundations, and is hard to verify practically. The Buddhists are perhaps nearer the facts as we know them in putting at the very basis of their belief the doctrine, not of the original depravity, but of the original laziness, of human nature. (page 53)

with this clarification:

The greatest of vices according to Buddha is the lazy yielding to the impulses of temperament (pamada); the greatest virtue (appamada) is the opposite of this, the awakening from the sloth and lethargy of the senses, the constant exercise of the active will. The last words of the dying Buddha to his disciples were an exhortation to practice this virtue unremittingly (page 53 note 1)

In the introduction to his translation of the Dhammapada,*  Babbitt enlarges on this discussion, drawing a contrast between appamada and karma.  Both words mean “work,” but Babbitt claims that in the Dhammapada and the other early Buddhist scriptures written in the Pâli language karma carries the sense of an effort sustained over a long period, several lifetimes in fact, that culminates in a kind of knowledge that can be acquired in no other way.  Babbitt made a habit of attributing his favorite ethical ideas simultaneously to all the great sages of the ancient world, east and west; nothing would have appealed to him more than declaring a familiar passage in Paul to be identical in content to the doctrines of the Buddha.

Babbitt used the Buddha and the other sages as an arsenal of sticks with which to beat his intellectual arch-nemesis, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  For Babbitt, Rousseau was the patriarch of the Romantic movement, and the essence of the Romantic movement was an embrace of mere whim.  Indeed, the sentences I quoted from Literature and the American College introduce one of  his innumerable denunciations of Rousseau, in that case denouncing him for confusing “work,” which the Buddha understood as a virtue that quiets the spirit, with mere activity and busy-ness, which the Buddha regarded as a vice in which we escape from our true obligations.  For the Rousseau of Babbitt’s imagination, violent displays of emotion were events of great significance, while projects requiring long years of steady labor and harsh self-discipline were trivialities.

I suspect that Babbitt would have seen a child of the Romantic movement in Huxley’s reaction.  Rousseauism primed Huxley to conceive of his bereavement, not in terms of a scheme like Paul’s that subordinates the whole of life to an immense drama in which the living and the dead all have roles to play, but in terms of the intense emotional experiences in the early stages of mourning.  Presented with Paul’s statement that without a belief in the Resurrection, this drama would not make sense, Huxley then heard that without such a belief his intense emotional experiences would not make sense.  Observing the indications of the same experiences in the apes, Huxley concluded that either Paul was mistaken, or the apes were believers in the Resurrection.  Babbitt could be quite harsh in his judgments of spokesman for Romanticism; in Huxley’s remarks, he might well have seen a man unable to distinguish between, on the one hand, “the lazy yielding to temperament” that the howling ape represents and the commitment to a life on the grand scale that Paul’s letter and the Buddha’s sayings describe.

Babbitt was no more religious than Huxley or Clarke, as a matter of fact.  But some of his associates and followers were.  If Huxley were writing to one of them, perhaps he would have criticized Paul from another angle, and with another ethological example drawn from elsewhere in the animal kingdom.  There are nonhuman animals who subordinate their immediate needs and pleasures to long-term goals and the  good of a group, whether penguins going months without food to incubate their young, social insects devote their whole lives to the acquittal of a single set of tasks within the hive or swarm of which they are part, etc etc.  Granted, humans have brain functions that do not exist in those other animals, and so we respond to incentives differently than they do.  So a latter-day defender of the idea that a belief in personal immortality is indispensable to practical morality among humans might argue that only an explicit narrative connecting generation to generation can enable us to do what comes naturally to our distant cousins elsewhere in the animal kingdom.  And of course a latter-day Huxley could ask for evidence supporting this psychological claim.

Huxley was no Buddhist or Christian.  One sentence quoted above suggests that his ethical views were a form of Neo-Stoicism.  That sentence is “My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonise with my aspirations.”  This is a rather neat summary of the Stoic aspiration to peace of mind through an acceptance of the world as it is.  I find further evidence of Stoicism in other passages.  A long paragraph between the two portions that I quoted above argues that in fact, the virtuous are likelier than the wicked to prosper in this world, a view often associated with Stoicism.  In that paragraph, Huxley also argues that we should put the physical laws of nature on a par with moral laws, and not regard those who suffer in consequence of “physical sins” as instances of wronged innocents.  That certainly fits into most Stoic models of “the natural law.”  And following the description of his son’s funeral, we find this remarkable passage.  I will let it stand as the last word:

Kicked into the world a boy without guide or training, or with worse than none, I confess to my shame that few men have drunk deeper of all kinds of sin than I. Happily, my course was arrested in time—before I had earned absolute destruction—and for long years I have been slowly and painfully climbing, with many a fall, towards better things. And when I look back, what do I find to have been the agents of my redemption? The hope of immortality or of future reward? I can honestly say that for these fourteen years such a consideration has not entered my head. No, I can tell you exactly what has been at work. Sartor Resartus led me to know that a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology. Secondly, science and her methods gave me a resting-place independent of authority and tradition. Thirdly, love opened up to me a view of the sanctity of human nature, and impressed me with a deep sense of responsibility.

If at this moment I am not a worn-out, debauched, useless carcass of a man, if it has been or will be my late to advance the cause of science, if I feel that I have a shadow of a claim on the love of those about me, if in the supreme moment when I looked down into my boy’s grave my sorrow was full of submission and without bitterness, it is because these agencies have worked upon me, and not because I have ever cared whether my poor personality shall remain distinct for ever from the All from whence it came and whither it goes.

And thus, my dear Kingsley, you will understand what my position is. I may be quite wrong, and in that case I know I shall have to pay the penalty for being wrong. But I can only say with Luther, “Gott helfe mir, Ich kann nichts anders.”

I know right well that 99 out of 100 of my fellows would call me atheist, infidel, and all the other usual hard names. As our laws stand, if the lowest thief steals my coat, my evidence (my opinions being known) would not be received against him.

But I cannot help it. One thing people shall not call me with justice and that is—a liar. As you say of yourself, I too feel that I lack courage; but if ever the occasion arises when I am bound to speak, I will not shame my boy.

*originally published by Oxford in 1936, reissued by New Directions in 1965; this bit is on pages 91-93

Marcel Duchamp, Calvinist

Tonight, Mrs Acilius and I were watching TV.  The program was a documentary called Paris: The Luminous Years. In a video clip from the 1960s, Marcel Duchamp said every visual artwork was a collection of shapes and colors.  The essence of art lay in the artist’s choice of these shapes and colors.  One set of shapes and colors was as eligible for this choice as another, and the actual production of the artwork was purely incidental.  Once the artist had made his or her choice of shapes and colors, the “art” is complete.

Mrs Acilius (who posts on WordPress as “Believer1“) said something about this.  “I think art is freedom.  When I paint a plate, I know that I’m painting it with fingers that have cerebral palsy.  So I have to start by accepting the fact that the picture I have in my mind is not going to be the same as the picture on the plate.”  We talked about this.  I asked her if she was saying that art wasn’t just something that happened in the artist’s mind, or just the finished product, but was to be found in the process, in the difference between what she was trying to do and what wound up happening.  She confirmed that she was saying that.

A plate by Mrs Acilius

I told Mrs Acilius that the difference between her and Duchamp reminded me of the difference between Calvinism and sacramentalism in Christian theology.  Duchamp’s idea that art is art simply because the artist has decided so, and that the events that take place in the physical world subsequent to that choice have no bearing on its status sounds rather like the Calvinist idea that the Elect are the Elect simply because God has decided so, and that events that take place in the physical world subsequent to his free election have no bearing on their status.  Her idea, by contrast, sounds like a form of Christianity that regards salvation as inseparable from particular forms of matter and particular events in time.

The Mrs is a Quaker; unlike the classical believer in the Orthodox, Catholic, or Anglican versions of Christianity, Quakers typically reject ritual.  They do, however, embrace sacraments.  Quakers do not practice baptism by water, not because they think it puts too much of God in the physical world, but because it puts too little of Him there.  Believing that the soul can encounter the Holy Spirit under any circumstances, they see the whole world as the scene of baptism.  Likewise, in their meetings for worship they do not have a ritual sharing of wine and bread, not because they lack communion, but because in their shared silences they make their fellowship a communion, and their whole persons an altar on which it is consecrated.  They do not make lists of sacraments, such as the traditional seven sacraments of Western Christianity, not because they deny that God interacts with humanity through matter, but because they believe that He interacts with us in more ways than we can count or foresee.  So when the Mrs puts an emphasis on the unpredictability of the artistic process, she is using categories familiar from the theology of her religious tradition.

The Nation, 7 November 2011

In this issue, Mark Oppenheimer (of Bloggenheimer fame)  recommends two books and a magazine article about the Church of Scientology.    The books are Janet Reitman‘s Inside Scientology and Hugh Urban‘s The Church of Scientology.  The magazine article is Lawrence Wright‘s profile of ex-Scientologist Paul Haggis.  Mr Oppenheimer writes that even “liberals for whom ‘tolerance’ is a sacrament” look for ways to ban religious practices that diverge substantially from social norms.  The interest of the review is Mr Oppenheimer’s own queasiness as he considers a relatively new and aggressively evangelical religion.  Time and again he squirms about, first praising religious diversity in general, then expressing his disapproval of Scientology in particular.  For example: “[E]mbracing the free market of religion requires that we be discerning buyers. We can be grateful that America is the country where Scientology may flourish, but we need not be grateful for Scientology.”  And:

Scientology may be one of those native religions that at first seems bizarre but adapts, grows and eventually thrives in our country’s fecund, undepleted spiritual soil.

Would that be a good thing? In many ways, no. It would mean more people reading L. Ron Hubbard’s tedious books when they could be reading real literature. It would mean more people suspending critical judgment, ignoring the factual record and insisting that Hubbard was a great warrior, adventurer, intellectual and teacher. It would mean more dollars misspent on auditing, instead of on good psychotherapy, badly needed prescription drugs or some really helpful classes at a community college.

On the other hand, if Scientology is still around in fifty years, some lucky Americans will discover in its practices the right cure for what ails them. For whatever reasons, either auditing or Hubbard’s “study tech” or Scientology communication classes will give them what public school—or a Freudian analyst or Judaism or Christianity or the Quaker meeting or the local Masonic lodge—could not. Scientology will give them a community. It will give them a way of life. Yet I remain worried about Scientology, worried enough that I can say this: I hope, fifty years from now, it’s not my children or grandchildren who turn to the church. But I also believe that freedom of religion is necessary. Without it, freedom of speech is a hollow guarantee.

Scientology may not last, but there will always be something like it. Reitman’s and Urban’s books are gifts to all religious people, especially Scientologists. They pay Scientology’s hierarchy the simple courtesy of holding them to adult standards of truthfulness and ethical behavior, and they confront Scientology lay people with some hard truths about their church. They also make the case—Urban’s book, explicitly so—that government and religion do not mix, and that perhaps it would be better, less entangling, to tax religious organizations. Reitman and Urban offer religions the respect they deserve in the form of the scrutiny they require. The Constitution, guarantor of free press as well as free religion, offers nothing less.

Mr Oppenheimer’s piece includes some interesting remarks about US tax policy.   To quote:

Most fascinating is Urban’s argument that Scientology has been instrumental in shaping how the US government defines religion. Beginning in 1967, when its tax-exempt status was revoked, the church fought a lengthy battle to have its exemption restored, infiltrating the Internal Revenue Service and harassing agents; in 1993 the IRS caved, offering Scientology a full tax exemption, sweetheart terms on back taxes and an unusual promise of secrecy (the deal was eventually leaked to the Wall Street Journal). Urban seems disheartened that Scientology bullied its way to victory—in Reitman’s book, IRS commissioner Fred Goldberg Jr. emerges as either a coward or a fall guy—but Urban powerfully makes the point that the IRS should not be in the position of deciding what is and is not a religion.

“The United States does not register religious groups and has no official hierarchy of religious organizations,” Urban writes. “And yet, federal income tax law does provide exemption for religious organizations, and, therefore, there must be some means to determine whether a group claiming to be religious is ‘genuine’ for purposes of tax-exempt status.” Supporters of religious tax exemption argue that it promotes religious charitable giving and prevents entanglement of government and religion. But if the government is going to grant religions special treatment, somebody has to approve that treatment, and it has turned out to be the tax man.

In 1977 the IRS promulgated a thirteen-point list of criteria for religious exemption (a recognized creed and form of worship, a formal code of doctrine and discipline, a literature of its own, etc.). It is probably no coincidence, Urban argues, that these guidelines were written “during the height of Scientology’s efforts to reemphasize its religious profile,” to complete its transformation from a philosophy, or self-help group, or whatever, into a religion. The IRS surely would have clarified its rules about religion over time, but it seems clear that the conflict with Scientology forced its hand. Urban writes, “As such, the complex legal and extralegal battles between the church and the IRS have been central to the shifting definition of religion itself.”

It would not be startling if, years from now, Scientology’s main legacy was its substantial contribution—if it can be called that—to tax law.

Professor Urban comment on a paradox which may be inescapable in a society that values religious freedom.  If “the power to tax is the power to destroy,” as Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall wrote in the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCulloch vs Maryland (1819,) then one would think that religious freedom requires special limitations on the government’s ability to tax religious groups.  Yet such limitations imply an official definition of “religious group,” which in turn implies an official ecclesiology. The “thirteen-point list of criteria” Mr Oppenheimer mentions is not the only test the Internal Revenue Service uses to determine tax-exempt status for religious groups, and that’s just as well.  Criteria such as “a distinct creed and form of worship,” a “definite ecclesiastical government,” “a formal code of doctrine and/or discipline,” and “schools or courses for preparation of its ministers” would all tend to rule out, for example, many of the Quaker groups that played such an important role in the USA in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Quaker ecclesiology in those days (and still, at least officially, for many Quakers today) regarded creeds, hierarchies, catechisms, seminaries, and ordained clergy as just so many idols and abominations, affronts to the Almighty.  If they had allowed themselves to be carried away by testosterone, such Quakers might have looked at the thirteen points of the IRS list and declared them to be a definition of a godless group.  Of course, if it were left up to people of that leading to replace the IRS list with their own definition of “religion,” I’m sure the result would be very nearly useless for purposes of deciding who should and who should not pay what tax.  “[I]f the government is going to grant religions special treatment, somebody has to approve that treatment, and it has turned out to be the tax man.”  Who else could it be, if not the IRS?  Congress would never dare pass a law defining what constitutes a religious organization, and without official definitions any person or group could claim the religious exemption.

In the same issue, Katha Pollitt’s column documents clueless remarks about Occupy Wall Street that media eminences made in the early days of the movement and contrasts them with relatively well-informed expressions of sympathy that similar people have made in recent days.  My favorite bit was this: “The more people join the movement, the clearer the message becomes. Former [New York] Times executive editor Bill Keller still doesn’t get it—“Bored by the soggy sleep-ins and warmed-over anarchism of Occupy Wall Street?” is how he began his October 16 column. (But then it took him till this summer to acknowledge that he’d been wrong to support the Iraq War, so maybe eight years from now he’ll apologize for snarking at OWS too.)”

A proposed definition of “feminism”

I teach at a state university deep in the interior of the USA.  The other day I was grading some papers students had written about ancient Greek culture.  One student focused on women’s clothing in ancient Sparta.  She included a paragraph starting with the famous phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…”  In her case, she’s not a feminist, but she believes that it is an unacceptable infringement of the equality of persons for the law to require women to cover their breasts in situations where men are allowed to go shirtless.   That puzzled me.  If a principled insistence that women must have a legal right to bear their breasts in public doesn’t make you a feminist, what do you have to do to earn that title? According to the eminent philosopher Lady Gaga, only someone who despises men can be a feminist.  That would disqualify most of the feminists I know, including many people who have spent decades on the radical fringe of the women’s movement, and several who have made a living as professional advocates of what they call “feminism.”

I haven’t brought this up in class, since I’m not quite sure where a discussion of the word “feminism” might lead.  Also because we’re behind schedule, and I want to catch up.  Eventually I will bring the question up, though.  To clarify my own thinking, I’ve been trying to craft a definition that will describe what I mean when I say “feminism.”  What I have on this so far breaks into two parts:

1, The belief that women have a right to play a wider variety of social roles than they play at present.  2, The habit of placing a higher value on this right than on the traditions that tend to restrict it.

I see seven advantages to this proposed definition.  First, the expression “wider variety of social roles” accommodates, on the one hand, liberal feminists who want to praise both women who choose to play traditional roles and those who move into what have been male-dominated areas, and on the other hand radical liberationists who want to stamp out the traditional roles on the grounds that they tend to crowd out the nontraditional ones.  By the same token, it leaves room both for feminists who claim that pornography and other forms of sex work can be a way of empowering women, and for those who argue that the sex industry and its products are just so many attacks on women.  In each debate, both sides agree that women should have a wider variety of options than they do now, but disagree about whether a particular sort of role opens more possibilities than it closes off.

Second, the vagueness of the term “social role,” which may seem like a weakness of the proposed definition, is in fact one of its strengths.  Consider the question, are right-wing female politicians feminists?  If they seek offices that have been strongly gendered as male, then to a certain extent they are feminists, no matter what they may say.  So, US Representative Michele Bachmann claims to view the proper role of a wife as submission to her husband.  Yet at this moment, Representative Bachmann is running for the presidency, an office in which she will not only be barred from taking direction from her husband, but which no woman has ever held, and which makes its holder, as commander-in-chief of the US military, a symbol of one of the most masculinized institutions in society.  Of course, it is possible to exaggerate the extent to which right-wing women are feminists in spite of themselves when they run for high office.  One thinks of Margaret Thatcher appointing a cabinet in which she was the only woman.  The ambiguity of “social role” captures the paradox.  Some might say that the relevant social role is “politician”; as this role has been open to women for some time, it was not an act of feminism for Representative Bachmann or Lady Thatcher to seek advancement within a political career.  Others will say that the role of “politician” is one thing, the role “head of national government” quite another.  So that any woman seeking to add that role to the repertoire of female possibilities is perforce a feminist, whatever she may call herself.

Third, “at present” makes it clear that the qualifications for the label shift over time.  To return to the example of Representative Bachmann, she is one of 72 women currently serving in the US House of Representatives.  While that leaves the House more than 80% male, it is a sign that service in Congress is not viewed as the sole prerogative of men.  So one could not say that the simple act of running for the House made Representative Bachmann a feminist.  The 41 women who served between 1917 and 1951, however, could be so labeled, especially the 23 who were elected to seats that had not previously been held by their husbands or fathers.  Among them were a number of women who were fiercely conservative in many ways, but even in the act of avowing their support for the old ways they were in fact increasing the opportunities women had to participate in politics.

The fourth advantage stems from the phrase “than they play at present.”  Notice, the idea is not that women should be free to play roles they are not now free to play, but that they should be free to play roles that they do not in fact play.  This avoids the dead-end of feeling obligated to make a legalistic argument proving a history of sex discrimination every time we express joy that women are starting to enter a previously all-male domain.

The fifth advantage is the converse of this.  Saying that feminism involves the ” belief that women have a right to play a wider variety of social roles than they play at present,” we do not imagine feminists as people who shame women into playing particular roles.  So, if all the sewage workers in town are men, one need not go around insisting to each woman one meets that it is her duty to take a job in that area in order to meet this definition of “feminist.”  I see that as an advantage in a definition of “feminism” since I’ve never met a feminist who insisted on such a thing.

Sixth, the word “habit” at the beginning of the second clause of the definition opens the door to assertions like those I’ve been making about right-wing women, that one can be a feminist without knowing it or intending it.  Beliefs and the labels attached to those beliefs tend to be associated with each other so closely that it is hazardous to say that a particular label “really” applies to a person who rejects it.  So  someone who resists the label “feminist” might well resent being told that s/he holds beliefs which merit the label.  However, we all have habits that we aren’t aware of.  So it might be fair to expect that if we present a reasonable person with evidence that s/he has a habit which we call “feminism,” that person will at least see why we want to say that s/he is a feminist.  Not that such a person would necessarily be unreasonable if s/he continued to reject the label, but s/he might be less likely to be insulted by our presumption in applying it to him or her.

Seventh, saying that feminism involves “habit of placing a higher value on this right than on the traditions that tend to restrict it” is another way of opening the label to people who differ in other ways.  Some people whom we would call feminist refuse to find value in any tradition that restricts the variety of social roles women are free to play.  Others place very high values on many such traditions, but not usually so high a value that they would be comfortable with their restrictive aspects.  For example, there are many people who grew up as Roman Catholics and who wear the feminist label proudly.   Some of these look at such policies of that church as its refusal to ordain women to the priesthood and break away from it altogether.  Others continue to participate, not necessarily because they like those policies but because they find other elements in the tradition that in their view make it worthwhile to stick around.  Emphasizing, as this clause of the definition does, that feminism is about placing a higher value on the right of women to play a wider variety of roles than they do at present than on traditions that restrict that right allows people on both sides of this dispute to continue calling themselves “feminist.”

The proposed definition is more or less a top-of-the-head exercise.  So I’m not committed to it.  If someone could suggest another definition that preserves all seven of its strengths, I’d be excited to hear about it.

Star Pilot: The Motion Picture

Yesterday, I recommended the independent comic Star Pilot.  Today, I embed a video version of the first issue, created by the book’s author.

Buy Star Pilot here.  Each issue costs a single US dollar.  I’ve read them all, and can testify that they are worth that price many times over.  Issues 4 and 5 are particularly interesting; in those, the author develops a remarkable approach to storytelling.  Each has a story that seems to be on the point of ending, when in fact the main part of the story is only beginning.  But the best way to read them is in sequence; issues 1 through 3 not only are enjoyable in themselves, but also make the depth and complexity of issues 4 and 5 a great surprise.

Recommended: Star Pilot

Here‘s an independent comic book that’s surprisingly good.  Here‘s a review.

Programmable politicians

Click for a larger image

In the USA, the campaign that will culminate in next year’s presidential election is already well underway.  As regular readers of this site know, I would like to see the US presidency abolished. I think Benjamin Franklin’s proposal at the convention that wrote the US Constitution, that the chief executive of the federal government should be a council rather than a single individual, was right when he advanced it in 1787 and is now a reform most urgently in need of implementation.  Combine the president’s overmighty position at the center of the US government with the celebrity culture that tends to focus all political attention on him as the ultimate celebrity, and you have a recipe for Caesarism.  An executive council might still be a threat to the freedoms of Americans and the peace of the world in something of the way that they unitary executive currently is, but at least there would be a chance that rivalries within the  group would lead members to restrain each other from the worst excesses we see today.  And no member of any committee could ever be glamorized in the way that a lone warlord can be.

There might be an alternative to the plural executive.  In reply to a post on Secular Right in which “David Hume” (a.k.a. Razib Khan) remarked that he for one wouldn’t object at all to a candidate who had a robotic demeanor, if that candidate were driven by data and logic rather than by rigid ideology and emotionalism,  I posted the following comment:

Why not replace the US president with an actual robot? The robot-president’s major campaign donors could program it so that for any policy challenge, it produces a list of possible responses that they might accept. Among these possible responses, the program should eliminate those that will move the robot’s political base to desert it and back a robot controlled by a rival syndicate of investors in a primary. From the remaining options, choose the one that has the highest favorable rating in the opinion polls. That seems to be how the biological presidents have been making policy in recent decades, so the change wouldn’t be particularly radical. Granted, the robot-president might not look as good on television as do biological entities such as Mr O and his predecessors, but in view of the shrinking audience for news coverage of all kinds that aspect of it might not be so widely noticed as to cause trouble.

I still prefer the idea of an executive council, but the more I think about it the clearer it seems to me that a robot president of the sort I’ve described would represent a real, albeit modest, improvement over the status quo.  What, in the final analysis, have our biological presidents done that such a robot would not be able to do?  They’ve been more effective at peddling fear and instilling a sense of dependency in the American people than a black box would be, that’s certain.  And they’ve added elements of venality and personal corruption from which a mechanical head of government would be free.  So, if we can’t have a plural executive, I’d gladly support replacing the president with a robot.

Herman Vandecauter and ukulele enlightenment

For some time now, Herman Vandecauter has been giving the world an education in the possibilities of various stringed instruments, including the ukulele.  Here’s his latest entry on soundcloud, an original composition called “Instantanea.”  About three months ago, he posted this piece there, a suite that Johann Joseph Vilsmeyer wrote in 1715 for violin, which Herman arranged for tenor ukulele.  Herman is the perfect artist for soundcloud; the wave forms emphasize the care with which he articulates each note of each piece, at the same time they illustrate the flow of the melody.

He also is a mighty presence on YouTube.  In this video, he plays his composition “The Russel Falls”:

Herman maintains several ukulele-oriented sites.  There’s Ukulele News, an English-language blog with reports on our favorite instrument.  And Ukulele Belgium, which is similar but partly in Flemish.  He’s on Twitter, and Tumblr, and a couple of years ago he posted some interesting photos on Flickr.  His classical guitar site is worth checking regularly, as well.  So he’s quite a busy gent.

Where left and right meet

In the October issue of The American Conservative, Ron Unz asks what high levels of immigration from Latin America to the USA mean for the future of the Republican Party.  Mr Unz, the magazine’s publisher,  disagrees with sometime American Conservative columnist Steve Sailer.  Mr Sailer has argued that as whites become a numerical minority in the USA, they will vote more like other minority groups.  That is to say, all but a small percentage of them will vote for a single party.  The Republican Party already enjoys the support of most white voters; indeed, no Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the white vote since 1964.  So if Mr Sailer’s prediction comes true, the Republicans will by midcentury routinely receive 80% or more of the white vote.  To support his prediction, Mr Sailer typically refers to the states of the southeast, where throughout most of American history whites have represented the lowest percentage of the overall population and where today vast majorities of whites vote Republican.  Since in the USA whites are likelier to turn out and vote than are most nonwhite groups, and the regions where whites represent the highest percentage of the population are overrepresented in the electoral system, bloc voting by whites could keep Republicans in power for decades after whites become a minority, even that party makes no inroads with any other ethnic group.  Mr Sailer isn’t particularly happy about this scenario; in a piece about the 2010 elections, he wrote “You’d prefer not to live in a country where whites vote like a minority bloc? Me too! But maybe we should have thought about that before putting whites on the long path to minority status through mass immigration.”

In his response to Mr Sailer, Mr Unz points out that the longstanding racial makeup of the southeastern USA is quite different from the situation emerging in the country today.  The southeast has long been populated by a great many whites, many many African Americans, and a tiny smattering of people of other ethnic groups.  By contrast, neither the people coming to the USA from countries to its south nor their descendants born in the States tend to identify strongly as either white or African American.  So if we want to see what the future might hold for the Republicans, Mr Unz suggests we turn to New Mexico and Hawaii, two states whose demographics are similar to those which are likely to prevail nationally if present trends continue.  The good news is that there isn’t much racial tension in New Mexico or Hawaii.  Whites there do not feel embattled, and do not vote as a minority bloc.  What Mr Unz considers bad news is that the Republicans are definitely the second party in each state.   Mr Unz concludes that the Republicans are likely to fade into irrelevance unless steps are taken to reduce immigration. (Steve Sailer replies to Mr Unz here and here.)

What steps does Mr Unz advise to achieve this result?  He does not suggest fortifying the border, or covering the country with armies of immigration officers, or deporting everyone who speaks Spanish, or requiring everyone in the USA to show that their papers are in order every time a policeman needs a way to pass the time.  He proposes instead a substantial increase in the minimum wage, from the current rate of $7.25 per hour to $10 or $12 per hour.  After all, immigrants come here to work, and those who come from countries where the prevailing wage is significantly lower than the prevailing wage in the USA can improve their standards of living and send substantial cash remittances back to their families by accepting jobs at less than the currently prevailing wage.  So it’s no surprise that in recent decades, as immigration to the USA has increased, median wages in the USA have declined.  Set a floor to wages, and you limit the ability of employers to arbitrage wage differences between the USA and the countries to its south.  Mr Unz writes that “The automatic rejoinder to proposals for hiking the minimum wage is that “jobs will be lost.” But in today’s America a huge fraction of jobs at or near the minimum wage are held by immigrants, often illegal ones. Eliminating those jobs is a central goal of the plan, a feature not a bug.”

Mr Unz’ proposal is quite intriguing.  Defenders of high levels of immigration often point to the harsh measures by which anti-immigration laws are enforced and posit a choice between open borders and a police state.  Raising the minimum wage doesn’t play into that trap.  Indeed, by raising the minimum wage and limiting public benefit to legal residents, it might be possible to scrap all other restrictions on immigration.  That would do away, not only with compromises to civil liberties and inter-ethnic harmony, but also with a great many perverse incentives.  Nowadays, immigration laws increase employers’ power over their undocumented workers, so that they dare not complain to legal authorities when employers violate their rights, lest they face deportation.  So policies that would enforce the immigration laws with more deportations actually weaken employees vis a vis employers, thereby further depressing wages.  Do away with the immigration police, raise the minimum wage, and enforce the minimum wage with jail time for employers who underpay, and you reverse that power relation.  Employers who tried to pay less than minimum wage would be subject to blackmail from their employees.  Nor would there be any need for a Canadian-style points system to ensure that only people with needed skills migrate to the country.  If employers are paying high wages to immigrants, that is a surer sign that those immigrants have skills the employers need than are the results of any government evaluation.

That the publisher of a magazine called The American Conservative would argue for a substantial increase in the minimum wage as a way of reducing the number of nonwhites immigrating to the USA suggests that the far right has circled around the political spectrum and found itself occupying the same spot as the center left.  Indeed, elsewhere in the issue this idea is developed explicitly.  An article by Michael Tracey (subscribers only, sorry) carries the title “Ralph Nader’s Grand Alliance: Progressives Find Hope– in Ron Paul.”  The dash in the subhed acknowledges the unlikelihood that the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman would inspire anything but dismay in lefties, but no less distinguished a campaigner for a more egalitarian America than Ralph Nader has spoken out forcefully for a left-right alliance as the logical outcome of the movement in which Dr Paul is a leader.  Mr Tracey writes: “‘Look at the latitude,’ Nader says, referring to the potential for collaboration between libertarians and the left.  ‘Military budget, foreign wars, empire, Patriot Act, corporate welfare- for starters.  When you add it all up, that’s a foundational convergence.  Progressives should do so good.'”

I admire Mr Nader.  I’m glad to say I voted for him for president in 2000, and I wish I’d had the guts to vote for him again in 2004.  But I don’t quite agree with him on this point.  Our difference can be summed up in his use of the word “foundational.”  To me, saying that there is a “foundational convergence” between two groups would suggest that they are pursuing the same goals and using the same standards of judgment.  That clearly is not the case here.  Left-wingers and libertarians may oppose many of the same things, but they are not for any of the sane things.  A traditionalist conservative like Mr Unz may be for an increased minimum wage and a less intrusive immigration police, but his goal is to keep America’s racial demography from changing.  That’s hardly a goal any leftist could endorse.  For my own part, I would be quite happy to see an America with a much larger Latino and Asian population, especially if that meant that the confrontational racial politics that have long characterized the states of the southeast and many cities in the northeast would lose their tension and follow the relatively easygoing path of Hawaii and New Mexico, even at the price of continued growth in income inequality.  Of course, I would much prefer to reduce both racial hostility and income inequality, and there is a limit to the amount of one that I would accept as a price for reducing the other.  I would be very reluctant to endorse any politics that forced a choice between those evils, and I think most left-of-center Americans would be equally reluctant to do so.  That isn’t to say that the left and the “Old Right” of libertarians and antiwar traditionalists are so far apart that cooperation between them is impossible, but their goals and ideological premises are so utterly different that a coalition between them would be doomed unless it were very modest in its ambitions.

Speaking of race relations in the southeastern USA, I should mention that at the moment, The American Conservative‘s website carries a rather beautiful blog posting on that topic from Rod Dreher.  Mr Dreher is responding to a short piece that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote for The Atlantic‘s website about white people who refer to African American neighbors of theirs as “our blacks.”

In the same issue, Samuel Goldman’s review of Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right praises Professor Eagleton’s exposition and defense of Karl Marx’ philosophical theories.  Mr Goldman is obviously not a Marxist, but commends Professor Eagleton for putting to rest many canards that his lazier critics have flung at Marx over the years.  On the other hand, Mr Goldman takes very sharp exception to Professor Eagleton’s attempts to defend the economic record of Marxist regimes.  Towards the end of his review, Mr Goldman discusses Professor Eagleton’s analysis of Marx’ place as an inheritor of classical political theory, stretching back to Aristotle.  He points out that this discussion is not original, but that it treads a path through territory very well explored by Alasdair MacIntyre.  Professor MacIntyre is one of my favorites; I’m always glad to see his name.  The magazine published Mr Goldman’s review under the title “Baby Boomers Make Their Marx,” and Mr Goldman does make a few remarks here and there disparaging “the post-1968 left.”  The idea of Professor Eagleton’s book as a generational statement is the main theme of another review of Professor Eagleton’s book, one that was linked on Arts and Letters Daily earlier this week.  That review appeared in Quadrant, an Australian journal that shares a number of contributors with The American Conservative.