Tuesday, April 12, 2005
FrontPage post mortem
OK, so FrontPage says they made an honest mistake with my reply to David Horowitz. And you know what? Dennis Perrin is surely right when he says that I am (and I quote) “much too fucking generous to Horowitz,” but I’m going to take this one at face value (you all can determine that actual face value for yourselves) and get right on back to the rest of my life. For my account of the Mysterious Interlineated and Misread E-Mail, you can consult the second update of my previous post. Or, you can get right on back to the rest of your life. After reading this post, of course!
FrontPage does say, “We wish, of course, that he had contacted us before launching this attack to ascertain what had gone wrong.” Likewise, I wish they had made absolutely sure that I hadn’t replied to any of Horowitz’s many, many, many arguments before they charged me with “intellectual laziness” – and then went ahead and built the entire column around the premise that the entire Left is intellectually lazy because it dominates American culture so thoroughly:
Part of the explanation for this failure to express disagreement in the form of an intellectual argument, we suspect, has to do with the left’s undisputed domination over the institutions of the higher culture – the universities, the large metropolitan press, and the TV networks. This dominance has caused it to inhabit a cultural echo chamber where the only interlocutor it really has to speak to (and answer to) is itself. Consequently, it has grown intellectually lazy and reaches for the most convenient epithet before it ever thinks about an argument. It has substituted emotional reflexes for ideas for so long that it has become a kind of latter day version of the conservatism that Lionel Trilling described as a “mental irritability” rather than an intellectual reference.
I think we’ve demonstrated pretty clearly which foot this particular shoe belongs on, folks. So I’m going to take away an important lesson from this episode, and offer my future interlocutors on the right a few words of advice.
First, the lesson. I’m glad that FrontPage is going to reproduce the full text of my replies, but you know, I’m even more glad that I have this here blog. (Can you address a blog in the vocative case? O Blog, thanks for always being there for me. Your friend, Michael.) Over the years, I’ve dealt with my share of bizarre and/or malicious readings of my work, and I’ve learned to my dismay that asking people what’s up with their bizarre and/or malicious readings just doesn’t do the job, regardless of whether you ask politely, quizzically, or angrily. (The polite and quizzical letters get replies like, “yeah, I smeared you – what of it?” The angry letters get disingenuous replies like, “why are you so angry? All I did was lie about you in a right-wing rag. You should control your temper and not take these things so personally!”) Blogging about bizarre and/or malicious readings, by contrast, gets immediate results.
I think back to what my dear old mother used to tell me when I would run out to play with the other kids. “Michael,” she would say, “if you’re going outside, don’t forget to bring your blog.”
“Mom!” I would protest. “I don’t need a blog – nothing’s going to happen to me. Don’t be so overprotective alla time! And stop fixing my collar!”
“Michael, I’m not being overprotective. Someday you’ll look back on this day, and you’ll say, you know, my dear old mother was right – a boy needs a blog.”
“Sheesh, mom. As if. ‘Bye.”
And, of course, I would run out into the world without a blog. Well, she was right, and she was right about the day that I would say that she was right. Sorry, mom.
Second, some words of advice. No one should be surprised when I reply fiercely to the claim that I have advised my colleagues “to treat conservative students as they would students with learning disabilities or who exhibited aberrant behavior.” Or when I call someone out for suggesting that I would have aborted my second child had I known that he had Down syndrome (in the course of “reviewing” a book in which I explain how my wife and I made the decision to go ahead with the pregnancy regardless of whether the fetus had Down syndrome). Or that I get angry – really, really angry – after I spend far too much of my precious time patiently and carefully answering a string of Horowitzian non sequiturs and am met, in response, with the charge that I am emblematic of the intellectual laziness of the left.
I am a hockey player, people. I do not fail to respond to things like this. As a matter of policy, I advocate a strong personal defense. Why? Because it works. Here in the Nittany Hockey League, people generally know that if they want to take a two-handed slash to the back of someone’s legs, or maybe cross-check a fellow in the back, they should go after someone other than me. My penalty minutes this year, after thirty-nine games? Zero. Cheap shots taken? Zero. Why, you can practically put my name on the Lady Byng right now (besides, no one else is using it this year).
It is not true, by the way, that I turn with fury on “anyone who disagrees with me,” as one critic once put it. Plenty of people disagree with me, including me. But if you publish something about me that is both demonstrably false and potentially damaging, I will indeed respond, most likely in the manner of Doug Piranha. I have a blog and a search engine, and I am not afraid to use ‘em.
Now, it’s not as if you can’t say anything bad about me. After all, some bad things about me are true! For example, I often turn things in late. Evaluations, manuscripts, faculty reports, receipts, you name it, I turn it in late. (Though I did get my taxes done last week.) Also, I am viscerally impatient with very slow and/or manifestly incompetent drivers, particularly when they occupy the car immediately in front of mine and I am rushing to FedEx or the English department office to turn something in late. I never confront other drivers directly (goodness, I’m not a complete jerk), but I do mutter things like, “it’s the long thin pedal on the right,” or “first day driving? you might want to practice in the stadium parking lot a bit before getting on the road.” Needless to say, this annoys the front-seat passenger no end, leading her to say, “you know, you have to cut that out. It’s a Really Bad Habit.” Yes, you can even hear the capital letters when she says this.
OK, so those are the general ground rules for personal criticisms. Bérubé advocates treating conservative students as if they were disabled – no. Bérubé turns things in late – perfectly OK. Bérubé is a symbol of the intellectual laziness of the left – no. Bérubé is a bit of a crank who mutters under his breath at slow or incompetent drivers – entirely true.
I’ll be back later today with some of the rest of my life.
UPDATE: For those of you interested in more textual foibles on the right, check out this painstaking letter by Graham Larkin, replying to Horowitz’s claim that he had not written a document that went out over his name ("In fact, the text you cite is not an article but very obviously a direct mail solicitation and was written not by me by but by a direct mail firm I hired to raise money for my Center. I plead guilty to not paying more attending to my fund-raising mail.” Or to typos and extraneous prepositions.)